Edinburgh Festival Fringe: part three

Woke (Theatre)
Until 28 August, 14:00, Gilded Balloon Teviot
Reviewed by Huma Munshi

Woke is a powerful play about the African American experience. Only this weekend we have seen white supremacists attack black activists in Charlottesville and police brutality against unarmed black civilians seems something that can be all too familiar on social media feeds.

Woke doesn’t preach to the audience, rather it engages and moves us. Written and performed by Apphia Campbell it tells the story of two women, 42 years apart; one is a Black Panther, the other a present day university student, with different but parallel struggles for civil rights. The life of Assata Shakur has been recently dramatised on Radio 4 and Woke interweaves Shakur’s story with that of a young African American student which works well. The present day student has her consciousness raised by both witnessing the systemic oppression and violence by the police and then experiencing this herself. At that point there is no going back and she has to “stay woke.”

Campbell is majestic in the lead role and her singing is particularly powerful. Singing and creating music has a long history in African American resistance from the time of slavery and beyond and Campbell seamlessly interweaves this into the narrative. She utilises both historical songs as well as the chants used at anti-racism rallies. Campbell’s flaming orange shirt itself feels like a prop. It shone out in the dark and brought to life Campbell’s fight.

This is political theatre without compromising on creativity. Woke gets under the skin and makes you think and feel.

Cathy (Theatre)
Until 26 August, 15:30, Pleasance Dome
Reviewed by Huma Munshi

There are magical but rare times when you watch a play and it is as if you are on stage with the characters, feeling every emotion, every knock and every hurt. Watching Cathy is like that. Housing and homelessness are very much in the current public consciousness. Cathy, inspired by Cathy Come Home, tells the story of a mother, holding down multiple low-paid jobs, who is unable to pay her rent so she and her daughter are evicted. She is then dependent on the council to find her suitable accommodation and then when that doesn’t work, dependent on those around her for support.

Cathy packs in a lot in its hour and a half: the story of becoming homeless, the flawed policies which don’t (and perhaps cannot in the current housing situation) provide adequate support when people need it the most and the play also creates incredibly believable characters. I found the changing relationship between Cathy and her daughter heart-breaking; as their housing situation becomes more desperate, their relationship breaks down. Throughout all this I can feel the shame that Cathy feels. Society shames people for being poor and this idea is internalised by all of us. I do think the attempt to blame housing officers in the local authority unnecessary however – they don’t set housing policy. There are bigger players and more urgent issues to consider.

There are no easy answers after watching Cathy. I leave feeling heartbroken but none the wiser on what the solutions are to the housing crisis in the UK.

Iphigenia Crash Land Falls on the Neon Shell That Was Once Her Heart (A Rave Fable) (Theatre)
Finished on 12 August, theSpace on Niddry St
Reviewed by Lissy Lovett

Clumsy Bodies is a Queer Theatre company led by two gender non-conforming and disabled artists. In this production of Cariad Svich’s 2004 play Iphigenia Crash Land Falls… , links are made between the Greek myth of Iphigenia and the femicides of Ciudad Juarez taking in transgender themes, FGM and political violence along the way.

It is not wholly successful. A few of the actors have a declamatory acting style which doesn’t serve the text very well, although Mickey Shaw playing both male and female roles stands out. As I watch the plot is also not very clear, later reading makes more sense of the references but the production should have made it easier for the audience.

There is nice use of projection and filmed clips throughout and the imagery is good. One moment when Iphigenia stands on stage holding a black balloon with a red cloth across her face is lovely, though again I couldn’t tell you what it was meant to signify.

Overall Iphigenia Crash Land Falls… has lots of great ideas and I like the company’s approach. A little more quality in the delivery of those ideas and the company could do even better.

It’s interesting how the conversational format of a comedy show is not that far removed from a live art performance, but with more jokes

An Arrangement of Shoes (Theatre)
Finished 12 August, Laughing Horse @ The Counting House
Reviewed by Huma Munshi

An Arrangement of Shoes, a production from Tara Arts, felt slightly muddled. This is a solo show devised by Maya Foa and Radhika Aggarwal with the narrator Rukhsar played by Aggarwal. It is a snapshot of Rukhsar’s memories about her family which also shines a light on historical events. The arrangement of shoes is a metaphor of sorting and understanding memories.

The analogy of shoes didn’t really work for me. There were times when individual shoes were used as characters, either being toyed with or spoken to, or thrown to show anger or left hanging to depict someone dying. It felt quite odd and didn’t engage emotionally.

A story matters if the characters matter and in An Arrangement of Shoes the characters lack substance and so don’t have sufficient emotional resonance. The story doesn’t explore the impact of actions nor, for example, what it means to be bereaved, what it means to steal or to sabotage your father’s job. It mentions communal unrest between Hindus and Muslims but the subject is used as a comic device without fully acknowledging what the conflict means for groups who are impacted. Similarly, the death of family members is glossed over. If it doesn’t seem clear how it matters to the narrator, then how can the audience understand and engage?

Aggarwal as a character is convincing but I leave feeling dissatisfied.

Abigoliah Schamaun: Namaste, Bitches (Comedy)
Until 27 August, 19:40, Underbelly, Cowgate
Reviewed by Flora Herberich

I feel that Edinburgh performers often put words like ‘bitches’ in their show titles in order to be provocative rather than them serving a purpose, and I’m not sure that this show’s title does it any favours. However, I warm to this US comedian who tells us that she likes a party (and who doesn’t?) so much that she damaged her vocal chords and so her dream of becoming a musical theatre star went out of the window. Deprived of her dream she instead becomes a yoga teacher – the well-trodden path of many a confused creative practitioner.

It’s interesting how the conversational format of a comedy show like Namaste, Bitches is not that far removed from a live art performance, but with more jokes. The show touches on women’s body image, being ripped off by powerful men, trying to find enlightenment (Schamaun jokes that this is impossible for women) and bossing her English boyfriend into driving her to cross fit competitions.

Schamaun has an engaging manner and the audience connect easily with her. By the time the show’s grand musical finale comes around (DIY-fringe style) we all happily join in.

Siân Docksey’s Totally Casual and Freewheeling Mystic Comedy: Lemon Torpedo (Comedy)
Until 27 August, 12:00, Laughing Horse @ 48 Below
Reviewed by Rachel Murray

Siân Docksey is a “white middle-class Welsh-Armenian queer millennial” who is metamorphosing into a lemon since she is “already bitter on the inside and needs a thick skin”. Dressed in a yellow lycra bodysuit, her tongue-in-cheek prescription of unquestioning positivity amidst a “360 degree political shit-show” parodies the patronising socio-political wellbeing agenda. For example, Docksey suggests that cat-calling is actually “an amazing public service performed by men” giving women useful tips such as “maybe if you smiled love, people would want to bang you”. With a great energy and a surreal vibe, Docksey is very funny – on the face of it her set is full of quirky humour and off-beat anecdotes but underneath she addresses important issues of gender and sexual politics.

Parts of her set are just bizarre, such as having someone in the audience peeling lemons for the majority of the show and then using them to act out a gay porn scene. But her commentary on gender norms, confessing that most of the time she feels like a ‘human’ rather than a ‘woman’, is highly relatable in the age of constant pressure on women to conform to mainstream expectations of the female image.

Image one is of Apphia Campbell in Woke, credit Mihaela Bodlovic. It shows Campbell looking directly and seriously at the camera with her right arm raised in a Black Power salute. She wears a black sweatshirt with a bright African pattern.

Image two is of Cathy by Pamela Raith. A woman wearing a dark green coat with a furry collar perches on a box on stage. She looks like she might be a little tense and clutches her black handbag to her. She wears jeans and trainers.

Image three is of Mickey Shaw in Iphigenia Crash Land Falls… by Victor Pãtrãşcan. She is on the right of the photograph, gesticulating and looking to the left. She wears a military jacket with medals on the chest and a black beret. She has a beard painted on to her face with make-up.

Image four is a photograph of Radhika Aggarwal in An Arrangment of Shoes by Vahid. Aggarwal sits wearing a green kameez on a wooden bench. Hooked onto the bench beside her is a pair of leather chappals. She is looking up as if she is thinking or remembering something.

Image five is of Abigoliah Schamaun by Marko Dutka. Schamaun faces away from the camera. She is wearing a huge pink ballgown and holds two weightlifting weights aloft in her fists. She has tattoos on her shoulder and arm.

Image six (and the feature image) is of Siân Docksey. Only the top part of Docksey’s face can be seen. She holds yellow ribbon up to her eyes and looks through. She has yellow eye makeup on.