Friday, August 19, 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016 - see you there!


Here's a list of the shows I saw and have reviewed while at 2016's Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Reviews are being added this week as I catch up!

Royal Vauxhall (Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh Fringe)

What would happen if anarchic radio DJ and TV comedian Kenny Everett, and international rock megastar Freddie Mercury, decided to take the doe-eyed Queen of Hearts Princess Diana out to a gay bar? Well, believe it or not, that did actually happen, and Royal Vauxhall, a new musical from Desmond O'Connor, answers that question in its own unique way.

Although its tongue is very much in its cheek, there is an underlying melancholy to Royal Vauxhall. The unspoken truth shared by the writer and the audience is that we all know these three characters have a tragic end, and there are glimmers of self-awareness, especially in Mercury. Royal Vauxhall is set at the fag end of the 1980s, when the once close friends Mercury and Everett had made up following a fall-out over a tell-all book written by Everett's wife. Diana is feeling trapped in a loveless marriage, and everything is careering headlong toward that fateful November in 1991 when the world lost one of its brightest, most extravagant stars.

Canon Warriors (Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh Fringe)

When you're a fantasist, it can hurt to live in the real world; and when you're a realist, it can be really quite frustrating to have to cope with the fripperies of fantasy.

This is the set-up for the two characters at the centre of Hannah Greenstreet's charming Canon Warriors, in which we meet puppet-mad Punch, who lives pretty much inside her own head, and pragmatic Fleur, who looks after them both, practically and financially. They love one another very much, and live illegally in a council beach hut in Thanet, eking out a modest existence on what little money Fleur earns as a part-time teaching assistant.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Smother (ZOO Southside, Edinburgh Fringe)

It's not often you see homosexuality explored through hip hop, which makes 201 Dance Company's Smother all the more important. Dance is an art form where you see people of the same sex in unusually intimate situations quite commonly, but that is not necessarily sexual, merely the consequence of the choreography. Smother is about gay people, and so the intimacy becomes charged with a purposefully sexual subtext.

It is the touching story of two men who fall in love, but whose relationship is not perfect, and whose connection is put under strain by one party's abuse of drugs. Chalk dust usually used for grip cleverly doubles up as a certain white powder here, which the user aggressively blows in his boyfriend's face - it's a beautiful, visual way to get the theme across.

5 Guys Chillin' (C Too, Edinburgh Fringe)

I don't usually begin reviews with "I", but in the case of 5 Guys Chillin', I'm going to bend the rules. Because it's virtually impossible to write about the play without referring to your own, deep-seated reaction to it.

5 Guys Chillin' is less of a play and more of an experience. Pieced together by Peter Darney from more than 50 hours of interviews with men found through Grindr and other apps, it is a verbatim drama which pulls absolutely no punches in its depiction of the chem-sex subculture. It is immersion without interaction, for the audience is very definitely there "in the room". The fourth wall has never been built, and the first, second and third walls were demolished before you even stepped foot inside.

It takes place in one flat where a chem-sex party takes place among five gay men. They strip to their pants and indulge in all manner of debauched activities involving sex and drugs, and gradually get wilder, looser and more hedonistic. It's like being at a real-life sex party, as it plays out in real time before you, with real words spoken by real people about the terribly real things they've done.

Pussyfooting (Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh Fringe)

Built from interviews and workshops with women and transgender people across the UK, Pussyfooting is a "collaged exploration" of how it is to live in a gendered body. And what fantastic fun it is too!

Pussyfooting is a feast of comedy sketches, light-hearted sit-down discussions and heartfelt truth-telling, and it is ridiculously empowering for both men and women. At its core, it asks what it means to be a woman. Does it mean long, flowing hair? Being there when a loved one is crying, and staying until their upset is sated? Is being a woman defined by simply having a vagina, or periods, or breasts?

A Dream of Dying (The Space at Surgeon's Hall, Edinburgh Fringe)

We all love a good mystery, and the mystery at the heart of Fake Escape's A Dream of Dying couldn't be more compelling. In 2009, Peter Bergmann washed up on a beach in Ireland. But that was not his real name. He did not live there, and no one ever came to claim him. To this day, he has never been identified, but police pieced together this stranger's final hours by viewing CCTV footage and talking to local residents.

He had bought envelopes that were never posted, given fake addresses to hotels, and dispensed of his worldly belongings in various waste bins dotted across the small seaside town of Sligo. When the body washed ashore, a lengthy investigation began to attempt to identify the stranger.

Sounds fascinating, doesn't it? However, A Dream of Dying does not provide any answers, principally because there are none to give. Bergmann's secrets have never been solved, and so Treasa Nealon's play attempts to imagine what kind of man he was, and what might have led him to this baffling demise.