Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"Socialism was invented in 1848. Lovely stories about wizards and princesses were invented in olden times. The forces of capitalism have kept them apart … until now! From the exciting mind of Bouncy Castle Hamlet creator and internet mad scientist Will Seaward comes this slice of lefty bedtime story fun which will wrest the fairy tale from the icy claws of the free market once and for all! Huzzah! Hammers! Sickles! Goblins! Che Guevara! What could possibly be better?"
In an antique land there is reportedly a temple in whose precincts priests tend a flame. That flame has reputedly burned uninterrupted since it was lit by the vengeful hand of Alexander surnamed the ‘The Great’. For the faithful, this sputtering combustion is a torch dimly lighting the road back to a once mighty empire which cradled a great civilization.
A similar task befalls the acolytes of Socialism. The legacy they honour is no less beset by hostile forces than was (and is) the noble culture of Persia. Since the 1980s the domestic trend in the western democracies has swung ever rightwards. The intrusive state bureaucracy, which many anti-Socialists perceive as an inherent aspect of the creed, obscures the decency – the ‘unto others’ mentality – of those who still believe.
We enter to discover a stricken form upon the stage. A giant slumbers. The air tingles with the lyrics of Spiers and Boden – for once I am entering a Fringe show with music which is moodily appropriate. The lights dim. The giant awakes.
The unkempt locks of Will Seaward fall to his shoulders which are covered in a woolen 70s bathrobe – as though Dirk Gently has mistakenly been dressed as Arthur Dent. Seaward is a large chap. Broad from stem to stern. However he is tiny compared to his voice which booms a welcome so sincere that it’s impossible not to love him. Among his few properties is a copy of his ‘Socialist Fairytales’. These feature the adventures of a boy called Jack. Jack roams around an absurdist landscape populated with the wild products of Seward’s boundless imagination. It’s as though the rest of us have gone out blackberrying and Seward’s come back with a unicorn’s feather. Izzard wishes his comedy was this off-the-wall. Charlie Parker wishes his jazz was this free form. Seward is a master of the spoken word rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. But this ebullient live performance is never subservient to his prefabricated phrasing.
Despite the lateish hour the audience is kept sharp and awake. Seward’s interactions with them are splendid. For an as yet unknown performer there is a sense of celebrity about him. A mutual feeling among us that we are in at the beginning. There are moments in every Fringe when it’s worth a moment’s wonder at the sheer amount of talent attracted to the great cultural crossroads of Edinburgh.
Each of Jack’s adventures take him through tangles of tangential allegory. The stories are a massive compliment to Seward’s size. There is not a pot of gold on t’otherside of the river full of gun-toting republican sharks…there is all the gold in the world. Amid the fun is a pithy social commentary, a constant cherishing of the flame of small-s-socialism – that we can and ought to be better to one another. This is a show with a message as much as it’s a curiosity cabinet of the weird and wonderful ramblings of an informed and informative mind.
The performance is not flawless. It’s late in the Fringe and there are moments when the tiredness shows. Seaward is also appearing as a pirate dinosaur during the day. The wooly dressing gown was a bold choice under the hot lights amid the humid air of the Gilded Balloon Turret. But I regress and like a child enchanted by the brilliant telling of a favourite bedtime story I selfishly have no interest in the fact that Daddy has to get up in the morning so he can work for the man.