Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Full disclosure: this reviewer hasn’t always had a comfortable relationship with those performance pieces that heavily ultilise dance or movement. Historically, there’s always been something of a disconnect, a lack of fulfillment, leading to the frustration in which I was undecided as to whether I wasn’t enjoying it because I wasn’t ‘clever enough’ to do so, or if what I was watching was simply bad theatre.
The tipping point in my change of opinion, and my ability to relax around such shows, can pretty squarely be laid at the door of this company – Rash Dash – a few Fringes ago, with their show ‘The Honeymoon’. That production was a smart and sensitive show examining themes such as beauty, womanhood and friendship, and there’s enough value in that material for them to want to return to the same themes with this, Scary Gorgeous. And they were so impressive last time I saw them, they made me want to return, too.
The set-up is fairly simple – two girls meet while forming a band. The band themselves actually appear onstage, and provide the live soundtrack to the evening. They’re pretty good, too: you’ll very likely want to purchase their CD on the way out (so it’s good to discover that you can do exactly that), but in many ways, the band are simply the backing to the main story: this is a world of women trying to be women, making the rather disheartening discovery that they’re as clueless as anyone else on how to go about it: most of us, if we’re honest, don’t exactly think of ourselves as in any way gorgeous, but we all know somebody else we think is – and we credit them with a disturbing amount of power because of that. The power balance lies not always in how we present ourselves, but also how high others place us on pedestals.
The two women of the piece are fairly uncertain about how to take each other when they first meet, both believing the other to be beautiful, and therefore in possession of some terrifying power – that, at least in part, lends this piece its title – and the pair manage to efficiently and economically display to us how fragile each woman feels, while at the same time appearing (sometimes accidentally) entirely confident and assured to the other.
Helen’s tendency toward fantasy – if not outright lying – is layered cleverly and subtly throughout the script, meaning that at times she can appear exactly as she (thinks) she wants – a eroticised object of desire – while Abbi, uncertain and feeling unconfident – manages to get a much better handle on her sexiness than her friend.
This is a piece in which all the major strands – dance, music, and theatre – are used to full effect. Not a moment is wasted, or indulgent. Case in point: there’s a sequence detailing the events of a visit to a nightclub. In too many shows that use dance or movement, the Dancing In A Nightclub Sequence can easily be the most annoying and banal portion of the evening – it’s where less professional performers try to coast for a few too many minutes by simply, well, dancing. Here, however, it’s a very witty and clever sequence, detailing location, passage of time, and a full scale narrative playfully and wittily, while allowing us to get to know the characters even better. All without words.
To say that this show is all about sex would be, as the old line has it, both accurate and misleading. However, while sex takes up a good deal of the dialogue, it’s a little less vanilla than that. Because while sex is spoken of a great deal, the way in which it’s discussed is much more original. It makes you realise that it’s still (still!) remarkably rare to have women on stage in conversations about their own sexuality that is neither tease or allure. Not one character here is able to surrender to their own innate sexiness without falling back on game-playing. And it’s not just the girls who are guilty: Rather, Scary Gorgeous is able to cast an eye on male sexuality that is incisive and – forgive us – penetrating, unblinkingly perceptive and spare. Everybody here is an adult, but all of them just playing at being grown-up.
There is sharpness and perception here, sexual remembrances told with startling honesty and wit – sensual diaries by way of Caitlin Moran – and with a good few gags (the band has mainly been made up from drifters on Gumtree, and there’s a vicious dig at Snow Patrol). It’s true that the storyline is sometimes a little broad in its need to culminate in an involving resolution, but the performers are always believable and touching.
A passionate, involving and beautiful show. With the power and allure of the moment immediately before a long desired kiss, with all the power of staring down the barrel of a gun. This review can therefore be summed up in just two words. And both of them appear in the title.