Sea Sick by Alana Mitchell – CanadaHub at Summerhall, Edinburgh
Alana Mitchell is at pains to point out she is not a performer. She has been driven to stand in front of audience by the urgency of a message she believes is more important than anything. She has uncovered stunning evidence that carbon in the atmosphere is acidifying the world’s oceans, a process that could lead to the extinction of all life on earth. She tells, in an engaging lecture, the story of how she, as a journalist, came to be investigating this little known, devastating climate change phenomenon.
Mitchell’s message is deeply alarming although she does believe we have the means to save the oceans, if not necessarily the political will. It seems harsh to quibble from a theatrical point of view with such a heartfelt and important undertaking. However, questions are left hanging, in particular about why she has chosen to take her message on stage. Not exactly a mass medium, it seems that other communication options would make more sense for a self-declared non-performer. Actually, Mitchell does a fine job which makes her protestations seem a litle disingenuous, but it is hard not to wish her very well indeed with the task she has taken on herself.
Hallowed Ground by Carolyn Bock & Helen Hopkins – Army at the Fringe, Edinburgh
Four women combine stories of women doctors in war, from First World War to the 21st century. The writers have uncovered some little known stories, which include the pioneering women who served foreign allies when the British Army refused them. The fight for recognition continues to Dunkirk, Rwanda, Iraq and Afghanistan, and the only way to prove yourself is to save lives. Performances are effective, but the show is best viewed as a set of oral histories.
The Patient Gloria by Gina Moxley – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
As soon as Gina Moxley, in suit and gold boots, steps centre stage it is clear something special is happening. As both writer and lead performer she is the ringmaster for a glorious, riotous evening that feels good and hits hard. Moxley is about to play three men – all psychiatrists – and we know this because she tells us while swinging a cock-and-balls. These are made from stuffed tights, with bird seed ‘for heft’, and she is trying them out for size to find out how it feels to be in charge. She unfolds the true story of a demonstration film, made in the 1960s supposedly for psychiatry students, in which a woman called Gloria is analysed by three shrinks. Liv O’Donoghue plays Gloria, who is patronised, used and pulled apart in a sequence of leering power games. The films were later released for all to see without her permission.
On paper, the story sounds worthy but on stage it is one of the most enjoyable things you will ever see. Moxley turns the tables on the grim patriarchy with a series of fierce parodies of the psychiatrists involved. Director John McIlduff stages with unstoppable verve, as Moxley disappears up Gloria’s skirts and another phallus flies around on a drone. The action constantly breaks for gleeful comment, and proceedings are accompanied by Jane Deasy in bass. When, inevitably, she ends the performance with ‘Gloria’ it feels like a blow against male control of women’s lives, expressed through irresistible theatre. Gina Moxley is clearly at the top of her game.
A Table Tennis Play by Sam Steiner – Underbelly, Edinburgh
An encounter between an apparently confident young couple, sorting out her dead mother’s things, and a socially awkward tennis-playing teenager is the basis of ‘A Table Tennis Play’. It does awkward very well, but a lack of focus undermines the show as a whole. The best moments come when Beth Holmes’ teen Mia’s neediness pushes her encounters with Rosa Robson’s Cath into territory neither of them expect, and a strange relationship threatens to blossom. It is partly to writer Steiner’s credit that the audience never knows what will happen next, lending events an eerie atmosphere.
The moment of Cath’s mother’s death in that very room is both significant and, inevitably, uneventful. After all, why would anything happen?However, the lack of a clear plot line is also a problem. The play generates an aimlessness in its quest for meaning. The world outside the shelter is confused but also confusing, involving too much information about who is doing what, where, of dubious significance. Above all, it is never really clear why the play is set in a bunker, or what tennis – table or otherwise – has to do with anything.
Raven by Chamaleon Productions
The three women who perform ‘Raven’ are Germans, acrobats and mothers. Having children means their lives no longer fit the template for performers. The precarious, risky and poorly paid existence of a female acrobat constantly conflicts with expectations of a mother, and in Germany they are ‘raven mothers’, the term for women who put themselves above their children.
The show is beautifully judged and full of clever moments. It provides a showcase for Romy, Lena and Anke’s remarkable rope work, dance and contortionist skills, but they are also funny and engaging performers. They make deceptively light work of describing their lives and families. It is a pleasure to watch them as they confess their fears and express themselves through cunningly choreographed movement, at one disappearing one after another down the back of a sofa. ‘Raven’ is a well crafted, experimental piece that gives a voice to women who feel sidelined.
Everything I See I Swallow by Tamsin Shasha and Maisy Taylor – Summerhall, Edinburgh
Topless, strapped in Japanese bondage cords and hanging from a rope, Maisy Taylor makes quite an impression on the arriving audience. ‘Everything I See…’ is a acrobat show, performed and written by Shasha and Taylor. They play a mother and daughter, the latter dealing with disconnection from her body through experimental relationships and bondage. Her mother is angry and confused that a feminist education could lead to this.
The aerial work is exceptional, including daring moments where the pair cross and support one another on the same rope. The show explores how a generation gap can leave women in their 50s and 60s feeling they have never had the freedom to express themselves physically, while their daughters runs outrageous Instagram accounts. The ideas are interesting but not wholly successful. The two characters seem stereotyped, and it is hard to sympathise with Taylor’s character and her complaints about the burden of her own beauty.
Work-Life by Diane Stewart – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
The Traverse Theatre’s rehearsed breakfast readings are a treat, because it is not at all usual to see work in progress presented in front of an audience. It is not appropriate to review a performance after a single day’s rehearsal. However, Diane Stewart’s play tackles the impact of automation and the grip that multi-national corporations have over work, life and moral compasses – an essential area for discussion.