Browse reviews

Brighton Fringe 2022

Low Down

Directed and choreographed by Antonia Draper; Written and performed by Harriet Gandy, who designed the set. Lit by the Rialto team.

Till May 19th.


Now there’s Destructive Desmond, buff waistcoat and slacks. They’re a geezer, can do anything, tie a balloon in the shape of a fish, buttonhole the audience, ‘cos they’re a psychic and can channel the Rialto Theatre’s Ghost in a strangulated voice, as that’s where we are. Welcome to Harriet Gandy’s Horsepower at the Rialto.

Destructive Desmond can draw portraits too as they studied at the RA for years. Each proof of their talents comes across, a drawing of this reviewer for instance. Instantly frameable.

Then there’s this gently-voiced Wilbert. The very name droops your confidence. At a table stage-left with wine and perfect table-settings, Wilbert awaits the love of their life, Toby, a schoolfriend, though Toby is with an exquisite tenor, Andrew. After recalling scented days with their mother, Wilbert strokes a blue scarf, goes with the eyes, a variety of dresses, hanging tantalisingly within reach. Scarlet, washed blue. Look at this cerulean and blue mirror she left Wilbert. Mother had such exquisite taste. There’s a twang of Torroba. Wilbert dances.

Desmond’s having none of it. Where would Wilbert be without Desmond to stand up for them at school? That time when Freddie was forcing Toby to blow him and Wilbert decided to confront Freddie only to be forced to the same act themselves. Desmond goes back and gives Freddie a piece of their mind and hops it.

Wilbert’s in crisis. Destructive Desmond tells them Toby will never arrive, only Destructive Desmond loves them. Then reveals that time when Destructive Desmond really stood up to their father. That time when caught with mother’s dresses, father thrusts Wilbert out into the courtyard, ties up Floppy the white rabbit with its piercing red eyes, hands Wilbert a shotgun.

A character taken from Auden’s The Dog Beneath the Skin, the construction of Destructive Desmond reveals the very fissure in personal and gender identity here reaches back to an abused childhood. Gender identity’s difficult enough in this blank world without people denying it, forcing a self that doesn’t exist. These parental and school traumas make it so much worse.

How can Wilbert learn some self-love, and what to do about Destructive Desmond? A cross between the black dog of depression, a feistier unintegrated persona, and self-saboteur, a character this real makes resolving the self well-nigh impossible.

What can unlock this, what can knock at the door? Directed and choreographed by Antonia Draper, this is an absorbing piece performed with brio by its writer Harriet Gandy, with a neatly reach-me-nearly set of dresses suspended, and a table floating like an ocean of civility in a whirlwind of braggadocio.

Gandy’s exuberant inhabiting of Destructive Desmond, interaction with the audience, getting a stand-up response and handing out – or not handing out – little creations is a delight; but it’s edgy from the start. Just a little too serrated. Wilbert, uncertain, soft-voiced might be authentic but Wilbert’s breaking down and doesn’t seem to sustain the walls of Wilbert much longer. The divided self just got a bit more dramatic, a bit more present.

Just over fifty minutes, this is exceptional, both as dramatic writing, design and performance.