Edinburgh Fringe 2016
The history of frontal lobotomy with a little burlesque and a soundtrack from Tom Waits
There’s a delicate cheekiness in the air. It’s a mix of disarming innocence, a coy smile and a theatrical wink which keeps you constantly intrigued by Jeu Jeu la Foille: Frontal Lobotomy
Victoria Hancock inhabits Jeu Jeu as if she’s dancing inside her – it’s all very poised, unless she chooses to skilfully undercut what she’s just created and leave you chuckling in her slipstream. It’s a sort of naff cabaret burlesque meets science class, where the naffness is all part of the package. It immediately tickles your funny bone, letting you sit back and savour the formality being traduced. She’s got the outward vulnerability of a Miranda Hart and the inner steel of a Joanna Lumley – the professor wears garters.
The story is loosely about the history of the frontal lobotomy – this is delivered by several short lectures from notes by a stern doctor/madame in a basque with a white doctor’s coat thrown over the top. This is the first of several instances where characters merge or sit deliberately, uncomfortably, atop each other. Tying together the themes is a running soundtrack/soundscape of Tom Waits, either playing live (archly and hilariously mimed by Jeu Jeu in a hastily donned slouch hat – the arrival of her band is a treat – or Waits appearing as a puppet, manipulated by her, smoking a cigarette – the ultimate louche cannon.
The resounding melancholy of Waits – Hancock/Jeu Jeu’s self-confessed fixation is the echo and counterpoint to the frankly horrific history of pre-frontal lobotomy. Walter Freeman, Jeu Jeu tells us, the American pioneer of the ultimate cure for mental illness, once treated 25 patients in a day with his ice-pick operation. Just when you think it might get serious, she treats the audience to a little off-kilter striptease. Add into this mix the fact that the ladies toilet is at the back of the room in Southside Social – which Jeu Jeu acknowledges and plays off the punters who are off for a discomfort break.
Her relationship with the audience is the key to the success of the piece. She may use the audience members to illustrate her lecture-demonstration from time to time, with various levels of engagement, but it’s all handled so expertly, so effortlessly, that it all feels off-the-cuff and refreshingly – well, innocent.
The finale has echoes of Waits’ gravelly mournfulness – lamenting lost love and perhaps the sadness of those who believed that Freeman’s treatment would cure them and set them free. Jeu Jeu disappears into the night, like a forgotten memory – or the smoke from Waits’ ubiquitous cigarette.