In which our hero is murdered, visits another sex worker, and touches a stranger.
Just Festival at St. John’s
Come in, get assigned a character, and most probably end up dead by the end.
Richard III is a one-woman show, taking place in the space of an hour. That’s a hard task for anyone, but Emily Carding pulls it off with ease. Greeting the audience as we enter, and assigning us to a seat and a character (I was Edward, Prince of Wales), the play is boiled down to, essentially, an extended monologue from Richard. There are very light moments of interaction, gently but deftly guided by Carding; for example getting the audience to crown Richard, or to murder one another (done in a very simple and amusing manner). But for the most part, she carries the show on her own shoulders, delivering the sinister machinations of Richard at times only inches from your face, and seeming to imply your complicity through a smile, or a nod.
If you’ve never seen the play, of course, there’s a potentially bit of a problem: it may be very hard to follow. And this is where the use of the audience comes into its own. Being able to see Richard addressing the relevant characters, or to gesture to them, and to watch us one by one being killed off provides a crucial context that helps keep the narrative clearly moving forwards, and avoids losing us in the constantly ongoing prose.
Ultimately, though, the show is made by Carding’s performance. It is intelligent, strong, confident (including the odd ad-libbed response to an unexpected event, such as a latecomer entering), and thoroughly engaging: in particular, Richard’s monologue before the battle of Bosworth had my heart in my throat (even though I knew what was – or wasn’t – going to happen). The choice of venue also deserves a mention: in a small chapel, it not only places the audience close to and surrounding Carding, but provides a suitably regal setting which helps to pull the piece together. Well worth a look!
Underbelly, George Square
Lucy Tafler presents
Another day, another play about sex workers…
Ménage is the ‘something’ I felt was missing from Hula House. A show for one performer and two audience members, it eschews all shock tactics and instead focuses on simple, honest and gentle dialogue, combining several verbatim accounts of the lives of sex workers into one character. A site-specific performance, it takes place in the bedroom of a flat, and the intimacy of this location is hugely important: entering, there is a slight edge of tension (what’s about to happen?), but this is quickly diffused with a clever opening line designed to break our preconceptions, and the offer of a cup of tea.
Rather than being provocative, this performance is very warm, friendly, and safe. We’re asked a little about ourselves – nothing major, fairly standard get-to-know-you conversation – and this combined with a few laughs helps to relax us into a position of comfort, from which we can begin to address some complex issues.
Not that this is a desperately dark or depressing piece. It’s just honest. There are good things and bad things about being a sex worker, and this addresses both. It isn’t overt in the questions it raises, but leaves an implicit space for us to ask them to ourselves. Treating the dialogue with tenderness and respect, it doesn’t reduce the women concerned to political tools or ideologues, but simply shows us a person: a human being doing what she can, trying to shape a good life for herself, and hoping for the best. Sometimes it’s funny, sometimes it’s sad, sometimes it’s heartwarming, but it never stops being engaging. I came out wishing it had been much longer. Wonderful.
Ciarán Myers in Association with Asylon Theatre / Universal Arts
New Town Theatre
I can’t think of a pithy one-liner to introduce this show. Everything I try seems too frivolous.
Touch is a very gentle show, addressing mental illness not from a medical- or education-based perspective, but just from one woman’s account of her past and present experiences. Welcoming us into the space, it becomes clear that we are in some kind of institution, and she explains that in order to have visitors she has to give these talks. Initially seeming reasonably composed (but tremendously emotionally exposed, as if she’s got no armour), we find out a little about Jacky’s life, both outside and inside. Gradually, it becomes clearer and clearer that she’s a very vulnerable woman, unable to cope with her sense of disconnection from the world, and desperate to feel the touch of another human being.
The constant motif of human touch repeats and escalates throughout the performance. There’s another patient who hates to be touched, and of course Jacky becomes infatuated with him. She tries to forge moments of connection with the audience as well, each time graduating the physical connection up a step, and each time seeming more and more desperate to need it.
Like Ménage, Touch is also very gentle, simple, and honest. You cannot help but feel for Jacky as she stands wide-eyed on the small stage, eager to connect with us but clearly terrified of the possibility. The escalation of intensity and trauma is well-paced, and never sensationalised. And each time there’s a vulnerable request for contact – “would anybody like to hold my hand?” – there’s a part of me that fears for what will happen if nobody complies. I came to care about Jacky by the end, in my own little way. Hopefully plenty of other people will too.
And that’s it. I’m now back in Oxford, nursing a bit of a festival hangover, but very inspired and excited by the slew of ideas this year’s Fringe has thrown into my head. Roll on 2016!