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Brighton Fringe 2016

Low Down

Bosco Spiegeltent sees Wildheart & Lyric return with their 2015 devised show for a short run. The company’s worked with kindred spirits like Spymonkey. Mick Barnfather directs. Simon Booth operates light and sound in a design by Alex Stafford.


Wildheart & Lyric return with their devised show of 2015 to the Bosco Spiegeltent for a short run. Last year Wolf Meat stormed the Marlborough; word has spread. The company has wide experience of working with kindred spirits like Spymonkey which immediately tells you if this attracts.

Four actors litter the stage. Simon Booth operates light and sound – some chilling chords at apposite moments like a B Horror for instance in a sound design by Alex Stafford. Mick Barnfather directs, confirming a riotous pedigree.

Wolf Meat defies much exposition, so why not try? Oliver Harrison also Wolfie speeds on announcing the show, an old lady from the second row totters on lost looking for toilets. You know the show’s begun, but in proleptic manner – sampling what we’re in for – the old lady intersperses the show at several insert points: she wrote it, in fact… she trumpets dramatic scenes ahead of schedule, confiding, proud of being in a play, delighting in rehearsal.

These quotable gestures are beyond alienation in the Brechtian mode, they invoke theorist Walter Benjamin on how we pre-empt or recall in order to distance and shape a drama – as actors deconstruct the show and will the audience to as well.

One audience member is treated to cocaine, or so it’s presented… Throughout, victims are dragged on to cheerfully outdo themselves. Or asked embarrassing questions. One’s dragged off to relieve her and audience tensions by having sex with the company. She emerges, saying nothing with a grin.

Wolfie lives with frail Grandmother (once Miss Croydon 1938) bent with a walking tool who’s taken on another stooped old relative who claims she has a stache. Grandmother likes money but not the fact that it’s really Policewoman Dawn Taylor, squaring-jawed fair hair scraped back in a stereotypical lesbian pose. Katie Grace Cooper morphs from scrawny crone to scowl to (later) seducer in a defrocking, her three-layered act.

Grandmother runs all drugs south of the river. Unmasked Dawn’s led off by Wolfie’s medicated dust-eyed Cinderella sister Luna. Several audience members are handed a gun, including one who’s told she’s spoilt the show in a chorus.

Spared surreptitiously, Dawn vows to defeat the empire. Professional waif Luna makes a pass at her brother – she’s adopted anyway – but who’s mysterious Caesar she can only contact through Grandmother’s laptop? At one climactic moment she’s excited to violent orgasm bestriding this linked in to him. She’s spotted and force-fed pills. Carla Espinoza emerges as a dark horse prepared to steal the show with derisory hand puppets – and her head-dance of vengeance once she pops her head through the Miss 1938 hatch showing she’s not swallowed her medication after all is a vicious delight. Downtrodden Luna’s rise is the most heart-warming theme.

Meanwhile Dawn contacts Nadia to infiltrate, knowing Nadine the feminist playwright whose inspiration’s dried up has a crush on her. These farceurs delight in playing decrepit and ugly but there’s a moment when each character is allowed their full allure: Grandmother Mella Faye Punchard with full midriff musculature sets to be Miss Brighton Olympic Athlete 2016 and Mata Hari 1916 in one. It’s a stand-alone allowing Punchard full scope for her farceur’s gift: air’s sucked out of the room, she must access a key in her own head by smashing it open with a hammer blow: cue sickening cracks and tearing open with hands; this is horribly good…. Dawn never fancied her anyway and now prepares.

Wolfie’s to meet his sister for furtive incest in the park at ten but there’s a voluptuous wig-redhead seducing Wolfie (prone to red muff) who pulls his pants down – the only nudity we’re subjected to. His pick-up’s reaction speaks for everyone. So wig-redhead’s invited back… it proves after all we love our morality cod-Jacobean.

Harrison apart from his plastic beard at the opening (Gran insists he’s Wolfie) morphs the least, anchors as gibbering host a crazed glass through which others’ absurdist antics refract. He’s cringingly good at for instance looking the goof downtrodden by a monster grandmother who even uses him sexually. In brief ensemble dances he’s allowed a solo. Like Punchard and Cooper Harrison proves a superior clown’s gift hides adroitness in more elegant numbers. Punchard and Cooper bear the quick-change brunt and brilliance of multi-roling and disguise though this does allow them both to surf the decades from sulphurous crone to savage cutie and back.

Espinoza like Harrison doesn’t morph roles but does manage a journey: its savage elation asks just what kind of show this is. It hardly promulgates drugs despite a spoof TV Advert for Class A. Though diffusing the terrors of weapons by turning them into pop guns, littering the floor with body parts and exposed brains, the volatility of even farceurs’ characters suggests spells and incantation against the violence celebrated.

But the genius of this company is not to ask themselves too many questions of narrative once it’s settled. Farce has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. Not to take away the nagging sense that something shifts in your head with this profoundly silly production is to have missed a sliver of life.