Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"What do you do when you’re ‘happily’ married…but completely alone? Anything you can think of! SingleMarriedGirl, an original adaptation of the blog www.singlemarriedgirl.com, follows the hilarious antics of Laurel Spears, a Chicago native who, finding herself at the crossroads of a dead-end marriage and major identity crisis, decides to take herself on a date…and see what happens next. Funny, poignant, quirky and cool, Laurel’s the girl you always thought you wanted to be…until you read her blog!"
Laurel Spears is no wallflower. Look to the most gazed upon female figure in a room and there Laurel is, standing next to the honey holding the other’s handbag. After a childhood as somebody’s daughter and an early adulthood spent as someone’s wife, it suddenly dawned on Laurel that she’d never been her own person. She had never picked a restaurant beyond selecting the shortlist. Never picked the night’s movie beyond determining the genre. In her wake trailed a mass of emotional debris needing to be cast off. She determined on a different course. SingleMarriedGirl is the online chronicle of a life turned around. Steering towards the sun.
Laurel Spears is the nom-de-blog of Heather Bagnall who also stars in the adaptation which is taking this year’s Fringe with surprise and delight. We enter to find on stage a magnificently complicated looking set consisting of a climbing frame with swing beside a rough-hewn desk. The effect is not unlike an open birdcage, the resident of which is still to be seen flitting about around the familiarity.
Bagnall delivers a script largely sourced from her blog with a mesmerizing confidence. This is her story and she tells it with the grace and moral force with which Holly GoLightly might direct you to Tiffany’s from the corner of Madison and East 57 Street. Happiness, Bagnall has discovered, is literally just a block or so away.
If Bagnall packs for travel as well as she packs an hour in the Fringe, it’s no wonder she so enjoys her holidays. Uplifting anecdotes from her first ever holiday as a single entity are tidily counterbalanced with weighty subject matter drawn from the relationships which have shaped and scared her. The humour is multilayered. Of the self-deprecating kind one moment, the next of the sort that is essential in a situation where the only other response it to cry.
At times I wonder if this is the sort of Chick Lit the current Mrs. Dan is reading on the beach as I snore gently beside a half read copy of Max Hastings’ latest. If it is I will be making much less fuss about the dross cluttering up the Kindle but I can’t believe many guilty pleasures are this absorbing or thought provoking.
Bagnall owns the performance space and fills it from top to bottom (literally, thanks to the climbing frame). There are flashes of pure genius in sections where her fear and anxiety seem hardwired into the sound and light board – theSpace on North Bridge trembles at times. The climbing frame and desk are less intune (perhaps a coat of paint for the frame and a pot of flowers on the desk – something girly). The moments when Bagnall consults her iPad jar the momentum – she’s at her best when she is freest in more sense than one.
If this was an angry play it would be unsympathetic. It this was a moaning play it would be unwatchable. What it is is a brilliantly timed, hugely engaging piece of positive reinforcement – I’m not the only one of our party who feels somehow better just for having watched it. My reserved friend from the Royal Naval Reserves admires the way Americans can talk about their feelings like that – “Bloody brave if you ask me. Wish I could do it.”
SingleMarriedGirl might be getting slightly lost in the pell-mell of the Fringe in full but it deserves to be found by anyone in search of expertly drafted material, masterfully played. An iron fist in a velvet glove. She might not be a wallflower but it’ll take much more than a sledgehammer to crack this wallnut.