The F-Word goes to EdFringe

Pomme is French for Apple – Until 24 August, 15:20, Underbelly, Cowgate

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

This clever, funny, original piece by Liza Paul and Bahia Watson consists of a series of vignettes about vaginas and womanhood, specifically with a West Indian focus. It put me very much in mind of the Vagina Monologues, but rather than stopping at the women who possess vaginas, Paul and Watson treat us to the thoughts and conversations of vaginas themselves in the very best of sketches, as they physically transform themselves into “pums”.

A lot of ground is covered in an hour, with topics ranging from douching and waxing to cunnilingus, male expectations for women to be odourless and the perils of uncomfortable underwear. All are given a refreshing, entertaining treatment – the audience laugh throughout.

Many of the experiences the women enact are recognisable, but are not normally discussed openly. The two stars switch effortlessly between playing elderly Jamaican women, young partiers and vaginas. The views and desires of vaginas often fail to match those of their owners, suggesting that we should all listen to our bodies more, rather than what society tells us.

I cannot recommend this enough, and encourage both men and women to attend at the first chance you get.

Pomegranate Jam – Until 23 August, 10:00, Venue 13

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

This shadow ballet, which switches between shadow puppetry and silhouetted human dance, explores the myth of Persephone from “a more evolved female perspective”. In the traditional story, Persephone is kidnapped by the King of the Underworld but finds a way to return to the world above for six months of every 12. When she is trapped below the earth, her mother mourns and the earth decays. When she returns above ground, spring and summer greet her return.

In this retelling of the myth, Persephone is wooed by Hades and consciously chooses to wed him. She is torn by the divide between her two worlds and her role as daughter and lover. She wishes to be with Hades but is traumatised that her choice has caused such pain to her mother, and the world. She seeks to reconcile her different desires by dividing her time between her two homes. In this way, Persephone is imbued with an agency she lacks in the original tale, actively choosing her path despite influences beyond her control.

Both the puppetry and dance capture the nuanced emotions of Persephone, presenting her as a conflicted individual, who is at once a victim of her own influence upon the world and a fighter, determined to make her own decisions at any cost.

Shrew – Until 25 August, 16:10, Assembly George Square Studios

Reviewed by Debbie Brannon

There is a lot of untamed anger and passion in this one woman drama performed by writer Ami Jones; her continuous sudden movements around the floor echo these strong feelings and add to the tension that she creates through her energy and powerful outbursts. She can be blatantly sarcastic, describing Petruchio as the “man of my dreams”, or be topical with issues such as everyday sexism, highlighting Gremio’s “creepiness” and likening it to “the first time you get honked at in your school uniform”. She uses props very creatively and interacts with the audience to great effect. It was a shame that so few were in the audience when I saw the performance. The play deserves more attention as her focus on the misogynistic aspects of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew is forceful and penetrating.

Her own show successfully questions ideas around public space and inclusion

The Hemline Index – Until 25 August, 12:00, Pleasance Courtyard

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

Two 24-year-old women, one from the present day and one from 1984, try on outfits in adjacent changing rooms. Both are hoping for promotions at work. Both reflect on what it means to be a woman in her mid-twenties in their respective decades.

The play seems to suggest that the ambitions and challenges of women in the 1980s and today remain startlingly similar, though they take on new shapes. This is emphasised by the lines the two women speak together, as their speech overlaps and echoes. Both suffer from society’s obsession with the food women should put in their bodies. Both seek role models in pop stars. Both hope for a relationship, and babies, though this dream is moved back several years for modern Amy, who first needs to pay off her Topshop card.

An interesting concept, but simplistically done, with Jen in particular feeling very two-dimensional. Is the message that nothing has changed? Or are the subtle differences significant? And what does any of it mean for, or about, women? The play doesn’t manage to provide any real insight.

Backstage in Biscuit Land – Until 16 August, 13:55, Pleasance Courtyard

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

At the start of this play we’re warned that if the star suffers a fit, she’ll remove herself from the stage and her co-presenter will run an emergency script. Luckily, this doesn’t happen in the performance I attend, but there’s every chance it could have. Jess Thom has Tourette’s syndrome, and this play educates the audience about it, in a very funny and insightful way. It doesn’t shy away from the hard facts either. We’re encouraged to laugh with Thom at her vocal outbursts, to sing lewd songs and to practice a staring test with the person next to us; as Jess explains, trying to control a tic feels like fighting against the body’s natural reaction to blink – impossible.

With excellent comic timing, sometimes scripted, sometimes spontaneous, Thom ensures that every member of the audience goes away with a thorough and emphatic understanding of Tourette’s. She was inspired to share her story after being segregated at a theatre performance in London. Her own show successfully questions ideas around public space and inclusion. A rare treat of a play that informs as well as entertains, and definitely touches.

Fanny, Edmund & Goat. Photo credit Greg Veit.jpg

The Ruby Dolls: Fabulous Creatures – Until 25 August, 15:00, Assembly Checkpoint

Reviewed by Megan Stodel

I wanted to like The Ruby Dolls. Four obviously talented women, I started the show excited to hear what they had to say. Unfortunately, by the end they hadn’t said quite enough.

Their new musical, very distantly based on Mansfield Park, shows men as human and women as part-goat to emphasise the status differences between the sexes. The song and dance made it feel like their message should be new and exciting but it was actually frustratingly pedestrian. There was nothing insightful or compelling about their quite tired observations on sexism. I can certainly nod along to a song that frenetically lists the dos and don’ts of being a woman but for a show that calls itself a “feminist fairytale”, I’m unconvinced we get anywhere close to new ground.

The storyline is quite confusing and the show would have benefited from more serious editing. There’s potential in the company but a bit more finesse and a stronger message would have gone a long way.

Freak – Until 25 August, 16:10, Assembly George Square Studios

Reviewed by Debbie Brannon

Leah, 15, has a boyfriend, Luke. Preparing to lose her virginity, she watches porn and Rihanna videos, practises sex positions and obsesses over pubes removal. Afterwards, Luke posts the word “vanilla” on her Facebook timeline and later coerces her into having sex with his mate as repayment for him allowing them to use his bedroom for sex. Confessing to her aunt that because Luke would never go down on her, she let her friend Sophie do it, she’s now worried she might be a lesbian, and wants her aunt’s reassurance that it’s fine and that her now temporary abstention from all sexual activities does not mean she’s a prude.

Georgie, Leah’s 30-year-old aunt, is stopping with Leah and her parents following her recovery from a brutal rape perpetrated by a stag group of ‘gentlemen’ whom she offered an exclusive VIP lap dancing show. Her recurrent dream, in which she’s surrounded by men, all of whom are “hard for her”, she interprets as a sign of her power. However, her rape ordeal, which her power didn’t prevent, crushes this fallacious belief.

Comedic topical quips and lots of cock references appear to diminish the tragic outcomes presented but their effect is only superficial as the meanings conveyed are clear and resounding.

The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven – Until 23 August, 22:30, artSpace@StMarks

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

Imagine if the 12 disciples were not all men. Some were women. Some were men who became women, or women who became men. Some were both woman and man. So begins the thoughtful sermonising of Jo Clifford as she explores Christian narrative from an entirely new perspective: that Jesus was transgender.

Clifford tells and reflects upon Biblical stories, with an emphasis on feminist and LGBT+ issues. She wants to destroy the notion that religion is necessarily homophobic by showing that if you return to religious texts with an open mind and heart, you will not find justification for prejudice and discrimination.

Clifford’s gentle but powerful monologue is easy to listen to, and the Church setting is atmospheric. The production has been condemned by the Archbishop of Glasgow, and other Churches have refused to host it, which says a lot about why such a piece is still needed – I’d like to hope that one day such ideas are not so controversial. After all, its message is to not discriminate, to welcome difference, to be inclusive. And it also tells us to think for ourselves, to question the stories we’re commonly told rather than accepting prejudice blindly. This probably works better for those familiar with the Bible, but retains a strong message for all.

With a male:female performer ration of 4:1, an additional female cast member would have been appreciated in a play aspiring to promote feminism

NSFW – Until 25 August, 12:55, C Venues – C Nova

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

The first half of this play features the staff of a lads’ mag who unintentionally choose a 14-year-old girl to be their topless cover girl of the year. Her father is appalled, but the editor defends the error by pointing out that the girl is clearly engaging in sex, that her father regularly reads the magazine, and that in four years’ time her breasts will be legal anyway.

Sam, the young intern responsible for selecting the girl as competition winner, is sacked. He suffers a crisis, wondering if he is a paedophile. We meet him again nine months down the line, as he interviews for a job at a glossy women’s magazine. Seemingly a less sexist option, Sam’s interview consists of having to criticise women’s bodies. He’s shown pictures of celebrities and instructed to circle their faults with red circles.

Thus the play asks us, which is worst? A lads’ mag that objectifies women, and yet does so in a celebratory manner, or a women’s magazine that endlessly disparages women. Sadly, the analysis doesn’t get much deeper. The performance is enjoyable but not sophisticated, feeling like an amateur production. And with a male:female performer ration of 4:1, an additional female cast member would have been appreciated in a play aspiring to promote feminism.

X and Y – Until 24 August, 19:00, Scottish Storytelling Centre

Reviewed by Shoshana Devora

X and Y tells us the stories of a transgender woman from Glasgow, a gay man from the Maldives, and a lesbian woman from Jamaica, based on verbatim testimony. They interweave their tales, talking to each other and the audience about what life is like being LGBT+ in their respective commonwealth countries.

What shines through is that, regardless of the laws of a country, it’s the attitudes of the people around you that shape your experience. Hilath speaks about losing all of his superficial friends on coming out, only to find a real community, with whom he could talk about politics and culture. Latoya talks about gaining acceptance from her father, a religious preacher initially displeased with his daughter’s lesbianism. Natalie talks about being attacked in a country with liberal laws.

The production feels like a relaxed conversation. At times amusing, at times shocking, the pace is gentle throughout. The piece avoids sensationalism, though it might have benefited from a little more force to make more of an impact, especially when characters describe their more negative encounters. There is nothing very new here, but the three individuals talk with a refreshing openness and honesty, and there is no obvious agenda so we can enjoy the personal testimonies without too much analysis.

Chef – Until 17 August, 18:10, Underbelly, Cowgate

Reviewed by Debbie Brannon

Despite the emphasis on simplicity in the opening of this one woman drama, through the explanation that a peach needs no embellishment to enjoy its taste and texture, the following narrative features too many complex characters. Scant, disconnected events unfold, in which serious issues, including gang and domestic violence, prison life and suicide, present more like a list of ingredients ticked off while walking round the supermarket. If you like a heady mix of all that’s wrong with society hurriedly served up in fast-food takeaway style, you won’t be disappointed and Jade Anouka’s outstanding performance will captivate you throughout. Keep in mind, however, that just like fast food, the full, satiated feeling may be short lived.

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival continues until 25 August. We will be posting another digest of reviews next week.

Image one is by Siddiqui. It shows the two actors in Pomme is French for Apple. The woman on the left is looking a little unhappy, pouting, while the woman on the right is smiling mischievously. Both wear black tops and pink hoods.

Image two is by Greg Veit. It shows one woman in the foreground, smiling with her arms stretched out towards the audience. Slightly out of focus, another woman stands behind her, holding a goat puppet.

This article was edited on 2 September 2014 to use the correct term “transgender” rather than the incorrect term “transgendered”. We apologise for the initial mistake.

Shows were reviewed by Shoshana Devora, Debbie Brannon and Megan Stodel