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Edinburgh Fringe 2015


Bettine Mackenzie

Genre: Drama, Solo Show, Storytelling

Venue: C Nova


Low Down

“A girl dreams of becoming a pop superstar but happens to be clairvoyant. When she finally gets the chance to perform on stage, she finds that her show has been besieged by unresolved spirits. Forced to give voice to a catalogue of memories that are not hers, she must fight to get her own words heard and seize the moment as those of others disappear.”


Anyone who thinks that acting is not an art needs to see this show. It is rare to see an actor engage an audience so powerfully, with such confidence and self-control. Acting is often discussed in terms of possession, and here, it becomes clear how such ideas emerge. With an empty stage and a few lighting changes, Bettine Mackenzie manages to transform herself into a series of characters by whom I am instantly entranced. The physicality of each character has been meticulously crafted and Mackenzie’s attention never falters as she moves seamlessly from one to the next. Nothing is overdone. Dramatic tension is carefully built within each scene and almost, but never entirely resolved. The result is a gradual crescendo as tension amounts throughout, slowly drawing us into the world of the performance. It is uncanny, intense, and brilliantly entertaining.

The performance is constructed around a strange girl who desperately wants to perform for the audience. Each time she makes an attempt, a new force occupies her body and we are left to watch as a number of different scenarios unfold. It is an insightful journey that takes us from church halls to decaying country manors, a teachers office and a young magicians living room. Every scenario is as gripping and thought provoking as the last. The audience laughs throughout and there is an intense concentration in the room as each mind works to complete the picture that is presented on stage.

Mackenzie’s writing rivals her skill as a performer. The text is sharp, funny, and touches on a number of significant themes. The idea of possession betrays the slyly self referential style of the performance and cleverly alludes to debates about the nature of acting, particularly its relationship with possession, madness and notions of a ‘fixed self’. The performance is almost, but not quite meta-theatrical as the central figure frets about her time on stage – she ‘only has one hour’, this is ‘her time’, ‘her chance to shine’. Within the context of the Edinburgh Fringe, such concerns feel very real, and almost break the pretense of the show as we witness a performer undergo the anxiety in real time with the character she has managed to embody on stage.

At moments it feels that this is the beginning of a series of ideas that have yet to fully mature and structurally the piece might do with more clarity. It is arguable that possession is a clever way of excusing a show that merely pieces together a series of unrelated characters. However, I wouldn’t want to confine these ideas to an overall narrative and the result is very compelling. It is powerful in its weirdness. Although the style and form of the two performances are completely different, I am reminded of the skill with which Laurie Anderson weaves critique and reflection through storytelling that never quite settles in one place (thinking specifically of her recent work All The Animals). Themes are introduced, but never fully pinned down. There is a wealth of material but it is layered and obscure. We are left to construct our own meanings yet there is a definite form to the ideas presented on stage. In consequence, the responses that emerge, whilst varied, are not random and retain a solid foundation in the work at hand.

For example, the vulnerability of the central character and the tragic nature of her desire hint at our susceptibility to those structures through which belief, even faith itself is formulated. She may be mad – perhaps we are in a mental institution? Her obsessive nature certainly seems to suggest it, but again, perhaps I’m making it up? The intelligence of the performance lies in its refusal to explain itself, gently hinting at themes that are never made explicitly clear. A disagreement over some biscuits might be a means of interrogating notions of community and acceptance. An old lady with an extraordinary love for her parrot insights thoughts of suspicion, decay and death. A desperate student prompts issues of power and exploitation. There is plenty here and how much of this Mackenzie has intended is not exactly clear. The quality of the writing however, lies in its capacity to facilitate responses rather than dictate them. Like all good work, it is a spring board and it is through discussion and reflection that further ideas will begin to emerge.

An outstanding piece of work which I would recommend for theatre goers of every kind.