The third and final instalment of a series of short summaries of a wide variety of performances, from the comedic to the dramatic to the bizarre, direct from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Each entry is preceded by the title of the work in question, and the venue(s) at which it is being performed as part of the Fringe.
Content warning: Mentions of racism, sexual assault.
Marsistan, from the student-led Lion Theatre Company, explores the experience of two second generation South Asian migrant sisters and how their everyday life in the UK is affected by their race. The play focuses on the family, particularly the bond between the two women, examining the way in which Pakistani women are perceived both inside and outside their own culture. There is a balance between the emotive subject of Aysha’s impending departure for Mars, critical engagement with the underlying subject of how they are stereotyped, and the humour that lightens the tone at times. Aysha’s sister Nasreen’s views often clash with hers, yet they come together over playing Xbox Dance Party Central, and complaining about their relatives. Nasreen is judged by the community for her failed marriage, whilst Aysha is judged for having ambitions beyond family and religion. Although the idea of Mars feels far away, it is rooted in realism, so we can imagine clearly the tabloid headlines questioning Aysha’s place as “The Face of Europe” and internet commentary such as ‘looks like they’re solving the migrant problem by sending them into space – what they going to call it, Marsistan?’ The show doesn’t shy away from exploring the nuances of their Pakistani identity, including internalised racism, and why Nadiya Hussain’s much-celebrated The Great British Bake-Off win brings humour, with a hint of sadness that to be Muslim, you can’t just be human, but must be nice and palatable for the rest of the British public to accept you.
Zoo Southside, Studio
When I enter the theatre, I’m surprised that there is a baby in the room since babies seem to be rare at The Fringe. As a show about the subject of having (or not having) babies, it seemed fitting. The baby was cute. The music was as high-energy as the characters, Tom and Karen, who danced around the stage, then drew pictures on a flip chart to describe each other. The main conflict of the play, by White Slate Theatre, revolved around Karen, who always wanted to be a scientist and Tom, who always wanted to be a dad. As we went through the details of their relationship, I was looking forward to the moment when things would turn sour, especially when an American character appears briefly to tell us that being unmarried past thirty is “tragic”. They cover the fact that women tend to forge their careers in their twenties, and the economic climate makes it impossible for most to consider children at the age previous generations would have them. Although this feels a little simplistic, it adequately sets the scene. It is clear the couple clash in terms of their desire for children, yet it is a difficult subject to talk about honestly when you’re aware you want different things. At one point, Tom accuses Karen of talking to him like a ‘two-hour brunch friend’, which I’m not sure is a deliberate reference to the film Frances Ha, but seems to fit regardless. Ironically, as Karen argues that she knows she would get the majority of the labour associated with the child, the actual baby in the audience, who has been a little noisy, is taken out by their mother. We do get a resolution, but I’m not sure whether it is necessary. Perhaps the lack of a clear resolution would give more room for thought, but it’s possible that the way this was resolved is enough to provoke discussion. Maybe it is possible for the Toms of the world to have children, if only they stepped up to give their partner the chance to continue their career if that is what they choose. To hammer this point home, the mother of the baby returns, having missed the whole show, and I hear the father apologise and say he should have come outside. Too little, too late.
The Man Presents: Women
When I arrive at this show, I am at the point where I’m wondering if there is such a thing as seeing too many shows. I am tired and flustered, but within minutes my tiredness fades away as I am soothed with laughter by the drag king on stage. He is the host of the evening, where we are greeted by six different comedy characters. The first is a Liverpudlian actor who talks about taking on the role of James Bond, because it’s about time the role was played as a scouse lesbian. The next character is an American actor who is typecast as the less attractive best friend of the female lead, also critiquing the idea of such characters being able to afford rent in a centrally located New York apartment. Next is Carys, a manager of a charity shop from Wales who gets an audience member involved in a role play, and a string of one-liners with hilarious punch lines, punctuated with ‘by the by’. There’s also a mermaid with a ukulele and a wide range of facial expressions; she plays snippets of songs before telling jokes about being half-fish and ending in an incredible song of her own. Entering the stage with pegs on her fingers, the fifth act has some of the most humorous lines, stating ‘some men are trash, but most men are recyclable and reusable’, as well as bouncing off the audience, when introduced to Alexi, ‘the male version of Alexa’, asking ‘If I plug you in, do you charge?’ and then asking if he has an erection, before doing a guided meditation about ice-cream. It’s hard to pick a favourite when they are all so different, but the final act is Belle from The Beauty and the Beast, and this act is particularly clever for the way that it depicts the relationship as abusive, through comedy and song, critiquing the fact that this story for children is essentially about ‘predator and prey’, joking that ‘at least it isn’t gay’. Six acts for the price of one, this show by Eggbox Comedy is well worth seeing.
Congratulations You B@$T@*D
TheSpace North Bridge
I’m not always a fan of art about art, and Congratulations You B@$T@*D is about two writers trying to create the perfect script. It is created by Ghosted Ink Arts Collective, who focus on making work about millennial politics, examining issues to promote change and provoke discussion. On the edge of giving up on their dreams, Mia and Nick attempt writing one last script on a night fuelled with “pan juice” (left over alcohol, all mixed together). The narrative plays out alongside a list of rules for writers. Whilst the storyline in relatively simple, the actors and their ability to bounce off each other creates laughter from beginning to end, with especially entertaining noises both after drinking some of the pan juice, and after a light-bulb moment sparks their drink-induced writing frenzy. This play is a critique of the power of gatekeepers in the arts, especially in terms of gender. It raises questions about how our morals are challenged and our own value becomes price tagged, as well as the privilege of being able to disregard these kinds of problems.
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Featuring three performers: Brian, Barry and Bean, Improvised Therapy has an almost slap-stick humour to it, appearing in full suits worn underneath swimming costumes and adorned with party hats. The plot centres around the mystery of Will, the missing office fish. Suspects include a ‘maneki-neko’ – also known as a ‘lucky cat’ – and a member of the audience who is deemed innocent because he ‘looks like a vegan’. My favourite part of the show is the repeated sketch, where the characters act as a parody of male office workers referring to the new secretaries as a ‘birds nest’, and stating that when they say ‘bird feeder’ they mean ‘my cock’, with other innuendos about blue tits. Each time it is repeated it becomes more and more grotesque. Although mostly scripted, the improvised therapy occurs when problems from audience forms are read out. One example being a tall woman who says she’s not attracted to men who are shorter than her, and under the section that asks what others have said about the problem, they have written: ‘get on your knees’. The involvement of the audience brings an element of surprise and humour.
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Pangea, by Here It Goes Theatre, has an almost cinematic quality to it – think of a cross between Zoolander and The Hunger Games. It uses a game show format to determine the next president of Pangea, as four candidates complete a set of absurdist tasks. All played by women bar the current president, the candidates appear as men, repeating empty adjectives in quick succession, with interruptions such as being asked to ‘show me on yourselves where you didn’t touch her’, and a game of hot-potato with a crying baby whilst all the characters scream. Each round covers a different political element, for example debate, manifestos and the budget. The manifestos round consists of each candidate holding up a different sign, reading: ‘good ideas’, ‘amazing amazing amazing’, ‘you got this’, and ‘nice things’. Humour comes from the absurdity and the explicit caricatures of masculinity, such as dancing to a song that repeats ‘I’ve got a big dick’, which then blends with the Pangea national anthem, with a woman in a white coat, who seems to be a producer of the show, throwing money until chaos ensues. Pangea offers a clear critique of the political system, in a way that keeps you laughing the whole way through.
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Coming from Crossword Productions and written by playwright Arabella Warren, Lines questions where the lines of consent can be drawn. It focuses on the experience of the central character, Aurora, who has been raped by Johnny, the friend of her best friend Ella’s boyfriend, Scott. It aims to dispel myths about who can be rapists or sexual predators, and explores the definition of rape and consent. Aurora flirts with Johnny, but clearly unconscious and unable to walk, she is not able to later give consent to sex. Aurora’s sister Frieda has her own story about Ben, who secretly films her in the shower. All this is disturbing, but what brings the story into reality is the reference to the Instagram account, ‘Scorebook69’ where men post pictures of their sexual encounters. There are some questionable statements made by some of the characters, such as Aurora saying she’s not kind of girl who calls people rapists or the kind of girl that sleeps with random people, hardly challenging the notion of virginity and slut-shaming. However, most of this can be seen as part of the exploration of the topic. The male counsellor is an interesting character, as he shifts from asking questions like ‘Why did you call the helpline then?’ when Aurora doesn’t want to go to the police, to which she replies ‘What, other than to get help?’ The play chops and changes in time, with flashbacks dispersed with the counselling sessions, and scenes of the Rape Crisis helpline, stripped of its funding and resources. On the screen, we also scroll through rain.org, where there are multiple stories from victims of rape, with the actors overlapping accounts given by people of all genders. The ending perhaps wrapped up too neatly, it could have ended here, yet equally, after such a traumatic story, perhaps positivity is what is needed.
Featured image credit: Manfred Lentz
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