Edinburgh Fringe 2016
Two decidedly left field ladies meet in what many would recognise as a familiar Fringe scenario – fifteen minutes to curtain up, no audience and it’s raining. A nice piece of new writing from Joan Greening.
Fifteen minutes to curtain up and there’s no audience. And it’s raining. Heavily. And the Fringe venue is not the most central, shall we say. In fact, you’d need to have had a complete sat-nav breakdown to find yourself in this part of town.
But Pandora’s clinging to the faint hope that (a) there’ll be a late rush of punters and (b) that Gloria will lose her voice / trip on the stairs / meet with some other type of random disaster so that at last, after three years in drama school and what seems like a lifetime of unproductive auditions, she can make her professional stage debut, albeit in a piece, At Home With Charlotte, that is so badly written that it has yet to attract an audience that gets close to breaking into double figures.
Pandora is just starting on her warm-up routine (consisting of a few of Juliet’s best known soliloquies from Romeo and Juliet) when bombastic Barbara arrives. That’s Barbara Bark, she whose bite is worse and who is horribly allergic to hessian. And just about everything else, it appears. Mistaking Pandora for a member of the audience, she delivers a rapid-fire telling off to the would-be stand-in. But Pandora is made of stern stuff and takes nothing lying down.
So the scene is set for some exquisite observational comedy as, slowly, we discover the secrets behind the two protagonists, their prejudices, the ability in one case to make sweeping general assumptions about people and in the other to argue almost for its own sake. This voyage of discovery showcases some excellent writing from Joan Greening, who also directed the piece.
In Julia Munrow (Pandora) and Julia Rufey (Barbara) she has found just the perfect actors to bring her wonderful characters to life. Munrow is passionate, feisty, energetic and expressive as she flies about the stage, questioning every glib generalisation emanating from Barbara. And Rufey’s portrayal of this spinster of indeterminate age is sublime. She’s bombastic, pompous, condescending, overbearing and haughty on the surface but a poignant undercurrent of insecurity gradually emerges as the plot reaches its climax.
If the transition from trading verbal blows to becoming sisters of alliance was a little lacking in nuance, the denouement was very cleverly crafted and provided an appropriate climax to a thoroughly entertaining and very funny piece of new theatre. Such a shame that it’s at the end of its run and was confined to such a small, outlying venue. Such writing and acting deserved a bigger venue to allow more the chance to appreciate this well-written comedy. Next year, perhaps.