Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Skyers Productions present Words & Women, a collection of monologues originally penned to provide fresh contemporary audition material for women. Established by Charlene Skyers and directed by Stephanie Fynn, this young company offer 3 or 4 short monologues (they change at each performance) that are dark, humorous, insightful and provocative. Performing in a small basement bar with minimum props and lighting, each character establishes a relationship with the audience and the sparse surroundings are soon forgotten.
Helen Comer ford pens “Moira and the Rest”. Moira, played by Emma Malyszcuk, is an adolescent schoolgirl who is beginning to realise she is not like her peers. She draws us into her complicated thinking process as she relates a story of an intimate moment with a young boy. At first she introduces us to a character that exists in her head – a character that constantly interrupts her rendition of the tale. It then becomes clear that there is more than one joining in, and that Moira is experiencing the early stages of a split personality that will probably go on to dominate her life. She recalls when it used to be quiet in there and bemoans some of the personalities that are aggressive or profane as she can’t control them. This is a punchy piece with Malyszcuk rising to the demand of undulating emotions and her skill stretches when she portrays the young Moira goaded into being more sexual by an inner personality, which adds what appears to be almost an extra foot to her height.
This work is followed by a darkly comical turn: “By Now” by Vanessa Fergus. A young, attractive, bubbly blonde woman teeters into the bar on the now familiar high heels of the high street. Waving a wad of cash, that for a second wrong foots you as you try to work out how she has the money, she quickly corrects your perceptions by revealing that she is a waitress: “a damned good one at that!” Perched on a seat and steadily drinking rosé wine, the young woman then confides that she lives her life controlled by lists and expectations. She has set dates to be married, a home owner, have a baby, and establish her own business, but is now terribly off schedule. Wrapped in a wide eyed blanket of professed innocence, her tipsy revelations unmask the controlling and manipulative wiles she is prepared to implement to achieve her goals. Inevitably she is eventually strangled by her own obsessive list making. Lauren Ions plays this character with obvious glee. The comic timing is essential to get the laughs here, and she creates a strong balance between the wordy script and her slow demise into drunkenness.
“Malcolm”, written by Skyers herself, delves into obsession, fantasy and the dangers of Facebook. A woman becomes fixated with a car salesman, and through her misinterpretation of his befriending her on his webpage, believes that they are in a relationship. Unfortunately he is unaware of her powerful love and its demands. She prints and frames pictures he has innocently posted, lovingly placing them in every room in her house. She struggles with jealousy and possessiveness when she realises other women are involved with him, but manages to convince herself that they are meaningless as she and he are meant to be together. Her passive stalking soon graduates to the physical when she seizes the opportunity to be alone with him on a trip abroad. Orchestrating a casual meeting she manages to lure him into a car drive where she can declare this unrequited love. His protestations lead to a nasty accident that develops into a much more sinister outcome. Queen Allen plays the loved up yet childish stalker with a coquettish air. When the unavoidable confrontation occurs she hides the real facts from herself and others as a small child would if caught out lying.
The final piece, “Cool Uncle Andrew”, is an extra addition tonight and is written by the director, Fynn (there are normally only three monologues). A much celebrated uncle falls horribly from his pedestal when his cajoling and cuddling begin to take on a sinister edge. Katriona Brown plays a distraught and damaged woman who reflects on her time when, as an eleven year old, her eyes were opened to the dark side of his personality. Fynn’s writing and direction allows Brown to build up the absent presence of Uncle Andrew perfectly. This is a Pandora’s Box of emotions as it dissects the brother and son of her parent and grandparents, whose lauded achievements and rare visits were so looked forward to. She tactfully tells of the strange things that confused her eleven year old brain and the painful impact of her revealing her Uncles secret “Illness”. You can almost feel her uncle’s creeping hands on your own body as she depicts his sinister actions. Browns intermittent eruptions of anger towards the uncle and genuine sadness at points are powerfully emoted.
All four women acquit themselves well in their solo pieces and I was left feeling that, as the festival continues, they will keep adding to the subtle nuances to bring these characters to life. There are minimum set changes and props, and they are all reliant on the relationship they create with the audience in this tiny room. Every eye movement and rhythmic change of breathing is obvious, and the scripts are well crafted and cast. The only oddity was the superfluous addition of another festival performer, who attempted to provide continuity between the set changes. The set changes were quick, and this addition had no relevance to the work being presented, instead interfering with the silence that audiences appreciate between powerful and emotional performances that allow them to reflect. An additional frequent distraction came from staff running around in the background during poignant moments.
However these are small things that are easily remedied. This is part of the free festival and captures the true essence of what the Fringe is about. It’s a young group of talented performers who are challenged to achieve an emotional arc in a short time, using intricately worded scripts,. It’s not a large theatre space with all the trappings, and they have minimal props for support, yet this solid ensemble create realistic personas that pique your curiosity.