The Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Week Three

Caroline Horton in 'Mess'. Photo by Alicja Rogalska (2).jpg

Mess – Until 26 August, times vary, Traverse Theatre

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

It’s hard to imagine what a successful play about anorexia might look like, but Horton has managed to demonstrate exactly this. Having suffered from the illness in her teens, Horton teamed-up with eating disorder charity BEAT to produce this show, which first and foremost aims to entertain, yet manages to educate as well.

The premise of the show is that Josephine, an anorexic student, is rehearsing a show with her best friend Boris. They later intend to perform this properly with the help of musician Sistahl, who regularly intrudes beyond his role as sound-effect provider to add an extra layer of sarcastic commentary to Josephine’s script. In this way, form and content complement one another, as the play-within-a-play concept emphasises ideas relating to control, reduction, visibility and the pursuit of perfection.

The show moves from the beginnings of Josephine’s illness, including her personal triggers, to its manifestations, consequences and the long, hard recovery process. There is an exploration into why the anorexia is so appealing to Josephine, through a mixed offering of the sentimental and the darkly humorous.

Horton manages to avoid being overly preachy. The audience is not instructed on how to feel about Josephine’s experience, but a greater understanding is definitely encouraged.

Githa – Until 27 August, 15:00, C Nova

Reviewed by Hannah Walters

Githa presents the life and work of Katherine Githa Sowerby: children’s author, playwright and, notably, woman.

Sowerby’s critically and commercially successful plays include her first foray into the male-dominated world of dramatic writing, the gritty Rutherford and Son set in the late-Victorian industrial North. However, her work and accomplishments have been largely forgotten and overlooked since her death in 1970.

Davies’ portrayal is powerful, beautifully enunciated and allows a twenty-first-century audience to relate to challenges faced by a Victorian woman

Addressing this canonical omission, writer/performer Hannah Davies, brings Sowerby and her work back to life and stage through this engaging performance. Sowerby is multi-dimensionally presented, struggling with societal constraints upon her gender, yet fierce in the face of discriminatory, financial and artistic adversity. Davies’ portrayal is powerful, beautifully enunciated and allows a twenty-first-century audience to relate to challenges faced by a Victorian woman.

While the writing is robust – characters and their relationships are, for the most part, well-formed – Fringe time constraints prove a little problematic for a play inspired by a life and work that spanned so many decades. Sowerby faced challenges in her life such as gender discrimination, financial difficulties and, latterly, unfavourable reviews and as such, some of these are resolved too swiftly, undoing a little of the drama created by Davies.

ITommy(2).jpgI Tommy – Until 27 August, 15:15, Gilded Balloon Teviot

Reviewed by Mhairi Mcalpine

The Tommy Sheridan story is one that is familiar to almost everyone in Scotland. Initially a popular left hero, he turned out to be an egotistical creep, blinded by his own starlight. I, Tommy takes the Sheridan story and turns it into stitch-inducing theatre.

Oh, but it’s cruel: very, very cruel. The caricature of Sheridan, played by Des McLean, an actor that Sheridan attempted to cite for the perjury trial to demonstrate that he could be impersonated, is captured flawlessly. The ambiguity of his wife’s position is beautifully played. With it unclear what she knows and when, the strong lass lends her power in support of Sheridan, rather than with her feminist sisters. Alice, Sheridan’s mother, a veteran of feminist struggles and a devout Catholic, is shown not only to be dazzled by him, but to continually hold him up as a beacon of her highest achievement.

It is a story of power and how people can give it away in the hope of attaining some of its reflection. McCombes, once Sheridan’s right hand man, narrates from the sidelines, watching the car crash, unable to destroy the misogynistic monster he had helped create, while the women of his family feed it.

It is fantastic.

The Bloody Chamber – Until 27 August, 21:35, C Eca

Reviewed by Eli Davies

The Bloody Chamber – a reimagining of the old Bluebeard legend – tells the story of a teenage girl who marries a rich, old marquis before discovering that her husband has murdered his previous wives and keeps the bodies locked up in a room. This production is tucked away and off the beaten track, which seems fitting for the isolated coastal setting of Angela Carter’s story, also suggested by the sound of the sea playing over speakers.

It is a sparse production and at times this works, adding to the overall menace. At other times, however, it feels as if we are missing Carter’s rich imagery

This production does a good job of bringing out the darkness of Carter’s story and highlighting themes of sex, sadism, power and cruelty. The marquis is played with a fitting touch of menace and choreographed tussles show us how he dominates his wife. Mother-daughter solidarity is also well portrayed.

It is a sparse production and at times this works, adding to the overall menace. At other times, however, it feels as if we are missing Carter’s rich imagery. Her story is full of description and symbolism: crimson jewels, dark fabrics, heavy doors. But we see very little of this. This is a shame, as the production otherwise captures the spirit of the story very well so some more visual effects would have added to it.

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Female Gothic – Until 27 August, 11:45, Assembly George Square

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

Three forgotten horror-stories penned by female Victorian writers are adapted and narrated by Vaughan in this one-woman show.

Vaughan’s performance is captivating. As someone who is, essentially, reading stories aloud, she manages to keep the audience mesmerised throughout. Her set is small and as she narrates she alternately paces the stage or sits proudly in an upright armchair, with impressive lighting lending an atmospheric effect to the minimalist set.

While the show would undoubtedly be appreciated on its own merits by fans of the macabre, there is nothing particularly different or new in the stories Vaughan seeks to recover. Two follow remarkably similar themes, with ambitious young men abandoning their lovers in order to pursue professional success, only to be supernaturally punished for their folly. The final tale is a simple one, of a haunted-house and a creature that lives in the shadows. In all three tales, the female characters are mostly relegated to the background. While this may be representative of society at the time, and perhaps carries a simple message of harm, a modern audience would be hard-pushed to find anything additional to comment on beyond the bare visibility of the stories’ women.

Worth a watch for gothic enthusiasts, but don’t expect anything radically different.

Lady M – Finished 18 August, C Eca

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

The true tragedy, according to writer/performer Bedrijf, is that Shakespeare overlooked the bit parts in Macbeth. She promises to divulge “all the gruesome details Shakespeare neglected to mention” through the perspective of Lady Macbeth’s lady-in-waiting, a character who appears in just one scene in the original play.

Bedrijf spotted an opportunity to give a voice to an otherwise voiceless character, but the result is volume, not meaning

In introducing a fresh perspective to Macbeth, Bedrijf juxtaposes Shakespeare’s male battle scenes with an imagined female domestic and the dinner parties of the nobility with the duties of the working-classes. We see her unnamed character making beds, collecting hens’ eggs and clearing out the rubbish, all the time dreaming of her own prince.

It is uncertain just what new value perspective Bedrijf seeks to add to the original. Her character speaks out, at times, for all forgotten bit parts and yet lengthily condemns Shakespeare’s superior treatment of the drunken porter, who she feels has less to say. Yet what has she to say? There are no radical new ideas. No real challenges to Shakespeare’s class or gender norms; indeed, the character seems overly preoccupied with her perfectly-folded bedsheets. Bedrijf spotted an opportunity to give a voice to an otherwise voiceless character, but the result is volume, not meaning.

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Waiting For Stanley – Until 26 August, 15:45, Assembly Roxy

Reviewed by Mhairi Mcalpine

With puppets, props and participation, Waiting for Stanley is one of the most imaginative pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time. Performed entirely in mime, it charts the lives of women in the Second World War. The sole actor brings their experiences to life: the longing for their husbands’ return, their attempts at normal domesticity in the face of abnormal circumstances, their protection and ultimately estrangement from children and their moves into non-traditional roles. She captures the highs and lows of each.

The tender end scene, where Stanley returns and they hesitantly embrace reflects an acknowledgement that they have had different experiences and are forever changed from the start of the play where he leaves for war.

Dragged Up – Until 25 August, 19:05, theSpace @ Venue 45

Reviewed by Liz Ely

Dragged Up is a short, sharp play centred around the performative nature of gender. The central character, Georgie, is keen to not be male or female and resents her mother’s interference in her life, particularly her questions about her sexuality and gender. Gender performance is likewise explored though short vignettes of relationships where men play women and women play men.

The content was at times muddled; the murder of one character was so unclear I wasn’t sure it had happened until I re-read the synopsis

Though the idea of gender performance is itself an important and meaty topic, Dragged Up fails to explore this in any meaningful way. At times it is hard to tell whether the drag is being played for laughs and some members of the audience certainly seem to find cross-dressing intrinsically hilarious. The content is at times muddled; the murder of one character is so unclear I am not sure it has happened until I re-read the synopsis. Each vignette focuses on abusive relationships, which are in real danger of being trivialised as part of “an entertaining evening of frivolities”. Dragged Up has some good ideas behind it and featured strong performances, but is sadly neither entertaining nor interesting enough.

The F-Word will be reviewing theatre in Edinburgh throughout August; look out for the next round-up!

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 and our second week of reviews here.

The feature photo is by RAN SHOT FIRST on Unsplash. The first photo in the text is Caroline Horton in Mess – photo by Alicja Rogalska; the second photo is from I, Tommy; the third photo is from Female Gothic; the fourth photo is from Waiting for Stanley. All photos used with permission.

This week’s reviewers are Eli Davies, Hannah Walters, Liz Ely, Mhairi Mcalpine and Shoshana Devora.