Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Six performers tell a story about their circus troupe and a pig – through acting, movement, song, music, circus, puppetry and humour. This faded fairground family is surrounded on stage by equally faded yellow and red banners announcing acts from their past “Daredevil…”, “Marvellous…” and “Exotic…” and a few props that have seen better days. As the story unfolds it is evident that these characters are played by first rate performers – where each and every person in the cast is superb. They tell this story directly to the audience through dialogue, storytelling, physical acting and song about their fairground show and about the arrival of Edmund, a pig (with low self-esteem), based on a poem by Edward Gorey. The play is written by Mike Kenny and directed by Gordon Dougall. It’s an enchanting well written play with some delicious peculiarities – it’s full of surprises, a bit of dark reality, humour and warmth, integrating themes of bullying and being different.
The performers play energetic, fleshed out and quirky characters, which make the show fascinating to watch and hold attention right to the end. The show is well rehearsed and feels spontaneous – it’s never slick or sterile – but has a human touch of low tech inventiveness due to Dougall’s direction and concept. There’s The Boss, who is an avuncular show man and leader of the troupe, wearing a red and yellow band jacket and a hand drawn single black curl of hair on his forehead, dynamically played by Garry Robson. His expressive face and eyes and warm personality really engage the audience. His wife, The Missus, is played by the divine Caroline Parker, she is a comic actor with a wonderful presence and timing and has a slightly frazzled “Mrs Lovett” look about her, plus she wants to make pies! Kinny Gardner plays Mr Mesmo (who can’t remember his name) and is a most singular fellow in look and personage – he’s an edgy top hat and tails kind of gentleman, tall and wearing white face make-up. His fascinating movement is dramatic and graceful and his personality is smart, sometimes droll and comically disdainful yet kind. Ariella the circus performer who has lost her nerve played by Annette Walker is poignant and ethereal, wearing a beautiful white satin old time circus costume with colourful embroidery, glittering sequins and silk. She keeps one secret to the very end. Anthony Cairns plays Edmund – he is the puppeteer, skilfully bringing Edmund to life with nuanced looks, a delicately quivering snout and more. Finally, The Bearded Lady is played by the brilliant Sally Clay, who is the Musical Director and plays all of the music live during the show – she sings operatically, too.
The clever songs are written by Martyn Jacques, founder of the Tiger Lillies. Robson, Parker and Gardner sing most of the songs – as solos, pairs or trios and they are all outstanding – full on voices, clear and pristine, each with a strong vocal range, and you can understand every word of Jacques’s songs, which is important not only because they tell part of the story but also because Jacques has a particularly witty and delightful way with words and music. Costume Designer Kevin Pollard has done a wonderful job of infusing the flavour of vaudeville, wear and tear and elegance in the costumes, which complement the characters and actors perfectly, so it’s very clear who each character is, and they do look like a troupe who have been performing in the same show together for a while.
Edmund the Learned Pig is produced by Fittings Multimedia Arts. Their website describes their focus “a disability led national organisation that makes popular theatre and artworks characterised by directness, comedy, music, emotion and immediacy. We work with materials, performers and artists that reflect and celebrate the United Kingdom’s diverse cultures.” One of these features in this show is that it integrates BSL into the performance without missing a beat. Two of the characters sign their own words in dialogue and songs, so it’s a natural part of the storytelling, which is very creative and inclusive. This 70 minute show is imaginative, impactful, has a clear emotional arc, is an interesting story, has fascinating characters, is spontaneously funny, is well performed, is inventive, hilarious with some thoughtful darker moments, is very entertaining, offers a sensitive message, will appeal to children and adults – and flies by!