Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 2

Some Thing New
Lion Theatre Company
C Nova

A contemporary arts collective invite you to engage in a workshop with them in the hopes of creating an original piece of art. As the session progresses, however, clashes between egos and ideologies begin to reveal cracks in the group’s cohesion.

Some Thing New is a fun, well performed and at times worryingly accurate performance/experience. The audience is introduced to the group, and invited to partake in a series of simple, postmodern creative exercises in an attempt to stimulate something original. The exercises in themselves are all fairly meaningless – they might make good stimuli for a properly developed and crafted work – but some of the artists are speaking about them as if they reveal profound truths. Some of them, though, don’t agree. Some start doing their own thing. Disagreements happen. Arguments erupt. Issues in the group’s interpersonal relationships come up…

The various arrogant, naïve, hopeful, cynical or overstressed characters are performed extremely well: having done many of these kinds of workshops, and having met many of these kinds of people in a professional context, I can vouch for the accuracy of their presentation in all its irritation. One actor in particular did a wonderful job of making me profoundly dislike his self-important, empty arrogance. And it’s fun to see some of the creative bits and pieces the audience produce: in particular one randomly-generated four word piece of gobbledygook really makes me laugh. It’s also nice to get the chance to talk to other audience members, share our ‘work’, and see how they are finding the experience.

Overall, this is an enjoyable way to spend an hour. It’s not going to change your world, but if you’re looking for something a little silly, with some light interaction and/or the chance to do a few basic arty exercises, I’d certainly recommend it.

Awakening: Sweet and Sour Sensory Composition

Sit down, have your vision removed, and be manipulated!

Awakening is a rather visceral multisensory experience. Entering into a small space and wearing white masks, we see two figures also wearing white masks, asleep. At their feet are piles of further masks, these ones with various designs on them and no eye-holes. A loud soundtrack begins, the figures awake, and one by one they place these new masks over our faces, so that we can no longer see, but then the real performance begins…

The following will describe bits of my particular experience, so if you don’t want to risk being spoiled, skip the next paragraph.

Whereas a lot of sensory experiences tend to be quite gentle (wafting different scents under your nose, or gently trailing ribbons over your hands), Awakening has no reservations about treating you rough. Our limbs are manipulated into various positions, sometimes involving contact with our neighbours. The performers climb over chairs, bumping into you as they go. The sounds can be loud. And the person next to me had one of the performers ‘die’ on her at the end. It can also get a bit more physically intimate than you might expect: at one point, while I’m being made to violently squeeze some sort of putty, the performer puts my other hand on her torso, so that I’m almost – but not quite – cupping her breast, and she begins convulsing in time to my squeezing. It combines the slightly violent with the slightly erotic, and is both a fascinating and slightly disturbing moment. Some if it is quite… well… icky as well: I wind up with a rather gooey finger, and several wet-wipes are passed around at the end!

Although the moments of sensory manipulation are an engaging experience, I can’t help but feel there’s a numbers problem: there are only two performers, and although our audience was less than half full, there was a bit too much waiting for my liking. Of course, there is plenty of sound – both recorded and that being created by the performers – and occasionally you get a tangential sense of the person next to you being moved, but this isn’t enough to carry me through the periods of nothing happening to me. I can’t help but think this could be improved even further by a couple more performers, which would allow for a more constant experience for all involved. However, as it stands it’s still an enjoyably rough and ready experience, and particularly worth doing if you’ve never been in one of these kinds of show before!

Hula House
Permanently Visible Productions
Zoo Southside

Here’s a first: I can’t say I’ve ever been to a show where the audience have been invited to whip a blindfolded, ball-gagged woman on her barely-covered behind. And no, it’s not actually all that fun. It’s pretty damn uncomfortable – and it’s supposed to be.

Hula House is about sex workers. Performed in a small flat, we’re put unapologetically close to the honest reality of a world which might seem titillating to the imagination, but in reality is just rather awkward, embarrassing and – yes – intimidating. Sex and nudity is something that’s generally presented as something enticing to rope in audiences: the well-lit, subtly shot sex scene with impossibly beautiful actors is a staple Hollywood fantasy. Here, it’s all a bit too in-your-face (quite literally, at times) to be enjoyable. Nobody quite knows where to look, or how to react, and the casual confidence of one of the actors in particular somehow makes the whole thing worse.

Not that this is just a show where they’re shoving their bits and pieces in your face for shock value. It’s a look at the lives of women who work in the UK sex trade – and to not present sex, nudity, and a rather alarming collection of toys and equipment would be dishonest. There’s a range of presentational approaches: the performers acknowledge that they’re actors, not sex workers, but slip into first-person monologues about their experiences as sex workers – monologues I am assuming are verbatim, or close to it. There are recorded interviews with both workers and customers. We are quizzed to find out what we know about the sex trade, and the performers engage in physical games – often with various sex toys – which begin frothy and silly but quickly become violent. Similarly, the verbal and physical audience engagement is very important: it refuses to let us detach, to put up a fourth wall. We’re here in person, with these women, and we’re going to get what we paid for.

Ultimately it’s the everyday-ness of the oftentimes extreme imagery that we’re presented with that stands out. This performance is coming from a particular ideological position, and it makes a good case for its cause: what we’ve seen and heard feels like it needs to be safe, to be regulated, in a way that it’s really, really not right now. Unfortunately I feel like something is missing – I can’t put my finger on what it is, but somehow the piece didn’t quite feel complete – but it does what it sets out to do well, with plenty of simple honesty, discomfort, no titillation, and a lot to think about once you’ve come out.

And so ends day two. Day three to follow…


2 thoughts on “Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Day 2

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