The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Week Four

JUANA_shot3.jpgJuana in a Million – Finished 26 August, Pleasance Dome

Reviewed by Cathy Hornby

Juana in a Million presents an amalgam of illegal immigrants’ true stories, partly reflecting the experiences of its solo performer, Vicky Araico Casas. It represents the lives of many, a generalisation of the plights of illegal immigrants, and also of one in particular through the character of Juana. This personalisation, making one story matter, successfully conveys the everyday misery, mundane existence and casual threat faced by women made vulnerable through having to live invisibly in a hostile world.

We see seven-year-old Juana learning from her mother the history of the Spanish conquests and destruction of the Aztec empire, Araico Casas transforming fluidly from mother to daughter. We see Juana’s life fall apart as her lover is killed in a brutal nightclub attack, eventually prompting her to leave Mexico to make a “better life”. She is strong, dignified and hopeful.

Juana’s London does not deliver her dream: exploited, abused, cheated and wronged without recourse for fear of exposure as “an illegal”. All the characters – old, young, male, female – appear as if from nowhere, melting away again as Araico Casas transforms before our eyes. Using mime and voice, dance and stillness, this is an extraordinarily intense performance – probably one in a million.

Daughters of Lot – Finished 25 August, theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall

Reviewed by Megan Stodel

Gyrating, jiggling temptresses lure covered-up innocents towards the ’empowerment’ of the eroticised in this performance of the classic angel/whore dichotomy by Brain Melt Consortium. Women are screwed either way. Would you rather be a Biblically inspired virgin with little autonomy, forbidden from men until your father trades you? Or would you exploit your sexuality to try to gain a little power over men who think with their dicks? Not that your power is real anyway…

Although the use of revealing clothing and erotic dancing might have been an attempt to expose the limited power of women, the reliance on sex to sell was a little undermining and perhaps even sad

There were a few moments that would have made for a wonderful feminist sketch show, such as a recitation of synonyms for ‘woman’ wryly exposing how often women are defined by their relationship to men or likeness to animals.

However, the problem with this piece is the conflict between a simple message and the reality of complexity. While keen to highlight the injustices that women face, the group were anxious to ensure that all points of view were represented. This is a mammoth task so while intentions were admirable, the show was confusing. Although the use of revealing clothing and erotic dancing might have been an attempt to expose the limited power of women, the reliance on sex to sell the show was a little undermining and perhaps even sad.

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Self-Criticism – Finished 25 August, Paradise in the Vault

Reviewed by Megan Stodel

Between the scenes making up Self-Criticism, by Blame the Chileans, the same pop song played: in slightly different arrangements, with slightly different instruments. The play was similarly repetitive: the same tired explorations of relationships between men and women were rehashed, in slightly different words.

There was nothing new in this production and what it did melodramatically present was banal. Self-Criticism would have done well to critique itself more as the show was simply a self-indulgent snoozefest.

A Woman Inside – Finished 25 August, theSpace on the Mile

Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent

What do women really go through inside?

The audience sit at the edge of a chalked-out cell containing first-time offender Barbara (Carrie Rock) and Sharon (Tracy Radzan), no stranger to incarceration. Creatively written and directed by Sophie Besse and based on her research and experience, A Woman Inside assembles the stories, silences, sorrow, amusement, strength and vulnerability of female outlaws. This culminates in a moving portrayal of a blossoming friendship between the two characters, nicknamed “Barbie” and “the Terminator”.

Including actors trained at Clean-Break, a company working with women affected by the criminal justice system, this performance unites fiction and reality to disturb and endear

The insidious prison life creates an endurance test as Sharon and Barbara have to withstand each other and the ever-watching eyes of the guards. Tormented by her separation from her daughter, Barbara faces difficulties as her glamorous Barbie persona is eroded by prison grime while Sharon, struggling with rage, finds solace in music and self-harm. Including actors trained at Clean-Break, a company working with women affected by the criminal justice system, this performance unites fiction and reality to disturb and endear. With sparks of humour, A Woman Inside depicts an environment with nowhere to run or hide, where the body of a dehumanised person becomes property and leaves the audience with the answer that most really do not know what women go through ‘inside’.

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Tissue – Finished 25 August, Bedlam Theatre

Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent

Louise Page’s play Tissue is an emotional mix of a story. Kirsty Jackson portrays Sally Bacon, a young woman whose world is upturned upon discovering a lump in her breast, dispelling the myth that breast cancer only happens to middle-aged women. Muchmuchmore Theatre Company under the direction of Andy Newman creates a captivating performance with various settings and props appearing and disappearing with every step the group take.

Despite endless reassurance that it’s likely just a harmless cyst, Sally loses her breast and the audience beholds a woman battling with body confidence against media images that inhibit her self-esteem. The chorus’ red attire, bold movements and dance sequences contrast with the white-clothed Sally, her body traced with surgical markings to emphasise she is now ‘marked’ and different to other women. Society’s fixation on an aesthetic value of breasts leads to Sally worrying about her new body and even about future sexual partners. Tissue exposes the harm in perceiving breasts as predominantly sexual asset and the ridiculousness behind men feeling awkward around women on the subject of breast cancer. It emphasises the importance of young women self-examining their breasts while showing how friends, family and health care professionals deal with illness, cancer and the female body.

Rape of Lucrece – Finished 26 August

Reviewed by Cathy Hornby

Camille O’Sullivan is recognised and admired for fearless performances of ‘difficult’ songs that take her audiences through emotional peaks and troughs of delight and despond. This RSC production made stunning effect of simple staging and evocative lighting, but relied mainly on O’Sullivan’s power to convey emotions from the perpetrator of the rape and the devastated Lucrece as well as to provide narration. The spoken verse was expertly delivered while the sung sections were the highlights.

Lucrece’s experience remains all too familiar

400 years after Shakespeare wrote The Rape of Lucrece we might expect modern audiences to have to view Lucrece’s plight through a time-adapted lens. Yet, her objectification, the sense of her as a virtuous trophy to be possessed and owned by her husband Collatine (who boasts of her “chasteness”) and abused as a vehicle to damage her husband’s pride and reputation as much as her own, seem sadly contemporary.

Lucrece’s suicide was not a symptom of her time. In some circumstances, people still regard a woman who has been raped as shamed, redeemable only by death – at her own hand or that of others.

This was an extraordinary performance of a poem both beautiful and terrible. That it had the power to move its audience to its feet in stunned applause is a reflection of the quality of the production, the talent of the performers and the sad recognition that Lucrece’s experience remains all too familiar.

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Cleansed – Finished 25 August, theSpace on North Bridge

Reviewed by Alyson Macdonald

Cleansed is a moving piece of new writing from Rummage Theatre, telling the story of Mary, a young Irish woman whose parents send her to one of the notorious Magdalene Laundries for ‘moral education’ after she is caught kissing the man she has fallen in love with.

The play weaves scenes from the Laundry into a narrative that shows how these experiences affect the rest of Mary’s life. She is left with feelings of shame and a fear of sexuality that places a strain on her marriage and then on her relationship with her daughter Niamh. In an attempt to find some closure, Mary takes a job in a nursing home for elderly nuns to find and confront Mother Brigid who ran the laundry.

There are repeated allusions to the mythical archetype of triple goddesses, sometimes referred to as the “maiden, mother and crone”, symbolising the stages of a woman’s life. The play is performed by three women and shows three periods of Mary’s life; at each stage the characters form a maiden-mother-crone triad.

Without seeming heavy-handed, Cleansed manages to impart factual information about the Magdalene Laundries and explore their social legacy. It is a stunning, evocative debut from a new theatre company and will soon be starting a national tour, which I would recommend unreservedly.

Click on the name of any production to be taken to the official EdFringe site, with information about the show.

See our first week of reviews here, our second week of reviews here and our third week of reviews here.

The feature photo is by RAN SHOT FIRST on Unsplash. The first photo in the text is from Juana in a Million, the second is from Self-Criticism and was taken by Robert Piwko, the third photo is from Tissue and the last photo is from Cleansed. All are used with permission.

This week’s reviewers are Alyson Macdonald, Cathy Hornby, Megan Stodel and Zowie Victoria Nugent