Reviewers from The F-Word share their opinions in our second instalment considering shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Bitch Boxer – Until 26 August, 16:00, Underbelly Cowgate
Reviewed by Mhairi Mcalpine
Set in 2012, as women’s boxing becomes an Olympic sport, Bitch Boxer starts with one of its hopefuls locking herself out, while running late for a training session. Negotiating a physically challenging obstacle course, hampered by her anatomy but ultimately successful, her jubilation in achievement is short-lived as she gets news of her father’s death.
Abandoned by her mother a decade prior, her father sought to channel his daughter’s anger into boxing, where she found calm in the aftermath of training. Together with Len, the gym manager, they support her ambitions for the 2012 London Olympics. Her father’s death sees her further focused as her way of dealing with separation, grief and loss: rejecting the comfort that others offer her and dismissing the flowers for her father as unnecessary.
The plot challenges gender roles: violence comes from the daughter, first in rage and then in boxing, while nurturing and emotional support come from her father, gym trainer and boyfriend. Only when pulling at the disco and in her secret appreciation of her boyfriend’s thoughtful acts does her stereotypically feminine side show.
The understated set emphasises the wonderful characterisation that the sole actor brings to bear on the role.
Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History – Until 18 August, 14:30, C Aquila
Reviewed by Elizabeth Glass
Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History is a one-woman performance, an insightful portrayal of the tragic lives of Marilyn Monroe, Mo Mowlam and Aileen Wuornos. The play tackles themes of rape, paedophilia, sexual objectification and power(lessness) in a concise and sensitive way.
Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History begins and ends with a projected montage of history’s notable women- from Parks to Pankhurst and Houston to Holliday, which both sets the tone and ties the piece together beautifully. The script displays a huge degree of perceptiveness and manages to capture both the individual and shared anguish of each woman. Though dealing with brutal subject matter, Well Behaved Women Rarely Make History doesn’t shy away or talk in euphemisms; “They’re not so big when they’ve got a gun in their mouth. It’s not nice having something in your mouth you don’t want” seems to sum the production up perfectly.
The intimate venue works in favour of the production; it’s impossible to avoid eye-contact with the actor, making it even more penetrating. An honest, tasteful and disturbing analysis of the world of patriarchy and the effects it has on the psyche of women.
Jubilate! – Until 25 August, 12:40, Pleasance Courtyard
Rosalind Adler’s middle-aged take on the lives of five middle-aged women played to a small audience of (mostly) middle-aged women for its opening show. Adler – writer and performer of this smart and satirical one-hander – swiftly establishes each character, inhabiting them convincingly through alterations to voice and physical presentation. The piece is perfectly paced, beautifully scripted, and elegantly played.
For speed, archetypal characters present somewhat in caricature – but there’s a lot of individual narrative to get through in this short hour. These women-of-a-certain-age stereotypes could lure us to misguided value judgements about each woman, and to believing – like our primary (and hideous) protagonist Anna – that we too might “know what’s best” for them, based only on limited understanding of what it’s really like to walk in their very particular shoes. This is Adler’s point: exposing what she calls the “terrifying certainties” of someone ignorant of their own shortcomings, self-righteously believing they have the answers to other peoples’ dilemmas.
Disingenuously meddling in real lives, more complex and rich than the accepted stereotypes of women’s middle-age, disempowers at the very time women may most need reminders to draw on their own resources and build their own solutions. This piece uses satire, wit and cracking story-telling to illustrate this point.
XXXO – Until 26 August, 19:10, Pleasance Courtyard
Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent
Crying is a universal act, usually involuntary but something two young women exploit on an impressive scale in XXXO. Created and performed by Nathalie Marie Verbeke and Charlotte De Bruyne, these two women take to the stage to feel sorrow, and attempt this by exhibiting raw, self-indulgent emotion in front of a group of strangers, watching YouTube and movie clips. The performers flutter between diverse emotional personas effortlessly, from Rose letting go of Jack in Titanic to clips of a disabled puppy, to Paul Potts’ opera, to finally their personal sadness triggers. After Verbeke and De Bruyne discovered they had a mutual habit of taking webcam shots when upset, they began to question where their urge to photograph themselves sobbing came from. XXXO confronts this question and experiments with the perversity of crying for a camera and audience and the laughable insincerity behind it – such as eating tuna while crying at a documentary on endangered tuna fish and the use of onions to irritate the eyes. The company’s first piece, the audience really does battle with the paradox of laughing while feeling their tear ducts stinging. These women are hilarious through sheer talent and creativity.
The Dead Memory House – Until 26 August – Summerhall
Reviewed by Liz Ely
The Dead Memory House is a “site specific promenade play”, which promises to draw you into the lives of Bea, Anne and Sylvia by inviting you into their home.
In fact, it is impossible to make yourself comfortable. As an audience member in this space, you are hyper-aware of the fact that you are in someone’s home with a group of strangers. This is unsettling, and adds to the overall feeling of voyeurism and stepping into someone’s life. The set is a pivotal part of The Dead Memory House, and the attention to detail is impressive, with old photographs and overripe bananas adding to the sense of looking into someone’s faded past life.
Unfortunately, the innovation and detail in the characters did not live up to the precise attention to detail of the setting. Anne, Sylvia and Bea are described in the Fringe guide as “your friends, sisters, aunts – perhaps your enemies”, but in searching for some universal female characters, the cast veer dangerously close to feminine stereotypes. The performances are very strong and The Dead Memory House is definitely an interesting experience, but I wanted to recognise the characters more than I did.
Satan’s Playground – Until 26 August, 14:20, Cowgate Underbelly
Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent
With its roots in old Jewish folklore, Satan’s Playground is an atmospheric, enticing tale about faith, devilry and sex produced by Molly Nicholson and Sara Hughes and directed by David Zoob. The tag-line, “It’s well known: women bring misfortune,” sets the tone for the fallen woman, painted by her shame and infidelity and embodied in the character Lisa, an honourable and loyal daughter fated to an arranged marriage. The head bully of this rural playground, Satan, is played by Lydia Baksh and David Hewson (sometimes simultaneously). The audience are invited to witness Satan’s disturbance of a provincial village as he initiates a storm of sexual temptation, jealousy and a desire for vengeance. The actors transition from protagonist to narrator beautifully and the other force in this production, the live sound crew, orchestrate captivating music throughout which mystically materializes, echoes and evaporates around the stage. With humour, horror, fast-paced character morphing and exhilarating ghostly melodies, the story hinges on the fragile boundaries between mysticism and madness, fascination and fear. The actors meet and surpass the challenging role of both creating and relating this drama as a two and as individuals amidst the musical pandemonium.
End to End – Until 25 August, 13:45, Bannermans
Reviewed by Hannah Walters
To be present at an End to End performance is to witness the final stages of a journey begun by three women earlier this year, one which took them from Lands End to John O’Groats, and from inspiration to artistic realisation. The trio open the show frustrated with societal pressure placed upon women their age, and, consciously rejecting restrictive expectations of marriage and children, choose to celebrate their freedom by embarking upon an adventure, travelling from one end of the country to the other with a tiny budget and in only 18 days.
The performers regale the audience with tales of interesting, inspirational people they met along the way, and of their personal and emotional development throughout the journey, through lively, interactive and kinetic performance.
Set design is of classic Fringe ingenuity, a quirky, artful and functional storytelling tool created from limited resources, while a beautifully executed mixed-media element lent the show a certain gravitas.
However, the transformation from real-life-story to dramatic performance isn’t entirely successful; the tangible disconnect between the real women and their on-stage personas gives rise to an air of confused discomfort amongst the audience, while the gushing sincerity of the three performers sometimes feels rather cloying.
A Guide to Second Date Sex – Until 26 August, 22:45, Underbelly Cowgate
Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent
Ryan invites Laura over into a will-they-won’t they have sex situation, which is laid bare to an omniscient and voyeuristic audience, hearing and feeling their suffering via pre-recorded voiceovers. Rachel Hirons is the playwright and co-founder of this production, which promises enlightenment on the rules of dating regardless of sex or relationship status. This performance opens up the private realm of the bedroom and drives the subject of second date sex into the collective consciousness with nothing left out.
The need for intimacy and approval leads both characters towards second-guessing intentions and body language. The comedy results from the contrast between their innermost thoughts and what they decide to communicate. Amy Butterworth and Thomas O’Connell give admirable performances and brilliantly fire off each other’s feigned awkwardness and cringing. The show thrives on the ‘women are from Venus, men are from Mars’ rhetoric, sold as a heart-warming comedy; however, delighting in woeful miscommunication between the sexes reinforces a stereotypical perspective of sexual relations with the male leading and the female acquiescing and men and women being irreconcilably alien to each other, useless at direct communication. Still: taken with a pinch of salt, an entertaining show.
B O X – Until 26 August, 12:00, C Nova
Reviewed by Zowie Victoria Nugent
Four friends and undergraduates at Harvard founded the company NineSidedBox as their first theatrical venture and created B O X, produced by Elizabeth Mak. The characters Bea and Elle are played by Adriana Colon and Margaret Kerr inside a dark, intimate, square room with just a table and two chairs.
The entire drama and atmosphere is created solely by the actors, enriched with charming, sarcastic humour. Guided by structured improvisation, two women explore a strained relationship in their constricted environment. The production enters into the mood of bizarre, unexplained suspicion and paranoia and the two women offer an interesting insight to their predicament. The hustle and bustle of the Royal Mile serves as a perfect backdrop to the society and exterior life the two women seem to be evading until the arrival of curious red boxes throws their humdrum and repetitive lifestyle into turmoil. It is particularly engaging when they suddenly recognise the audience as ‘guests’ to their home and begin a take on the absurd beauty regimes women are encouraged to follow and adhere to such as ‘midnight-snack cream’ and ‘waist-synching belts.’ The two women shine in their battle to survive as their restraint and resentment increases and their ramen supply decreases.
Best Served Cold – Until 18 August, 16:45, theSpace @ venue 45
Reviewed by Mhairi Mcalpine
The plot of Best Served Cold, such as there is one, centres around a soiree of a group of Durham University Dramasoc graduates, held in honour of their old friend/tormentor who had secured an acting role in the US, who the two sisters hosting the event had murdered earlier that evening. As the mother of the celebrant turned up to try to locate her missing daughter, and grows more suspicious as the younger sister becomes more nervous of her questioning. She is finally persuaded to leave after the party has ended, but returns to the flat to find the sisters moving the body.
An all-female cast with a fairly good leading actor and half-decent supporting actors couldn’t save a vacuous middle-class drawing-room drama.
Unneeded Baggage – Run finished 8 August
Reviewed by Alyson Macdonald
Unneeded Baggage is a devised play by recent graduates of the York Theatre Royal’s youth programme. It combines elements of the Helen of Troy story with the actors’ own thoughts on feminism, exploring the themes of body image and women’s representation in the media. The mythological content is apt, because it involves female characters competing for men’s attention, and being judged solely for their looks.
Although an empty unit in the basement of a shopping centre isn’t the most glamorous venue, the actors make a good effort, and have obviously had a lot of training, despite being very young. The play is carefully choreographed, and sees the actors use minor variations of costume effectively to separate out the different characters.
One caution I would offer is that the play is rooted within a particular strand of feminism, and it may not be to your taste if you don’t agree with the performers’ analysis of feminist issues. I found it a bit naïve, and it grated when they talked about bra-burning without realising that this was a rumour made up to discredit feminists, but others in the audience seemed to get a lot out of it.
The F-Word will be reviewing theatre in Edinburgh throughout August; look out for the next round-ups! See our first week of reviews here. Click on the name of any production to be taken to the official EdFringe site, with information about the show.
The first photo is from Bitch Boxer, photo credit Alex Brenner. The second photo is from XXXO. The third photo is from End to End. The fourth photo is from Best Served Cold. Photos used with permission.