Edinburgh Fringe 2019
An intense tour de force by Phil Sanger that delves into his personal story and a wider exploration of LGBTQ+ communities through dance, song, impressive lip syncing and heartfelt storytelling. The piece balances comedy and solemnity, linked by dynamic and fluid movement.
This show is not for the faint hearted. Sanger looks the audience directly in the eye and asks them to listen to his tales of childhood, of adulthood, of joy and of pain. The performance is made up of several stories blended together using movement and music, which features greats such as Kate Bush and Eurythmics. Sometimes the words and sound glide smoothly, at other times they are more jagged and broken as the show navigates its contrasting moods. There is glamour like that of the most glittering drag queen and, equally, there is debauchery like that of a nightclub at 3am. However, one must not just take it at face value – this piece has a drive behind it to highlight the discrimination and unjust shame that LGBTQ+ communities sometimes face and have faced. Sanger creates a much needed platform for this and demonstrates remarkable vulnerability as he, quite literally, lays himself bare.
The writing has a very intimate and honest feel – the stories all feel straight from the heart and are told with the appropriate level of cheekiness or gravitas. Sanger has a warm, Yorkshire accent and even encourages the audience to shout out ‘BARNSLEY’ every time his birthplace is mentioned in their most convincing Northern lilt – a tongue in cheek nod to the panto dame. As a performer, Sanger is very engaging and leaps effortlessly from spinning a yarn to dancing the can-can. His language of movement is very strong and I felt the show was at its peak when he was expressing himself through dance.
The staging is minimalist, as the audience enters there is only a wig and a couple of bosomous balloons on stage. In addition, the costuming is not excessive – there are a few clever pieces that transform dramatically to compliment the storytelling. The star of the show could be said to be Sanger’s beard – infused with glitter and sequins, it is something to behold. The lighting is used well to support the changing atmosphere and, towards the end, create a wonderful sculptural effect. Sound plays a crucial role in this piece – there is thematic music for the dance segments but there is also lip-syncing to clips of Angela Lansbury, Delia Smith and Bette Midler so it feels like there are several extra characters on stage. The careful curation of music and word feels deeply personal but also helps draw a wider sphere into the performance.
As a dance show one may expect a little more dancing, I certainly did. For some reason I was not expecting to be so directly addressed, I was expecting to sit passively and watch a man dance to a pleasing medley of tunes. It was a very intense performance and I enjoyed riding the rollercoaster of moods underpinned by vulnerability and defiance. That said, I would have liked a little more music, a little more dance to help the performance flow better – I enjoy dance performances for the beauty of conveying emotion through the body, showing and not telling. There is a shock factor to this show, and that is something to revel in, but I would have liked some sections to be softer, to allow space for the audience to feel truly touched. However, even if it was not what I or the rest of the audience was fully expecting we laughed together and all seemed absorbed by the performance.
To conclude, For Only an Hour is an important piece of theatre that seamlessly jetés from comedy to tragedy, contains invigorating moments of dance and gives voice to stories that should be heard. I recommend this show as Sanger is a powerhouse and should be applauded for his openness and strength on stage.