Edinburgh Fringe 2022
An elderly couple prepare for their 50th anniversary party. A nod to the Theatre Of The Grotesque ensues, with clowning, physical humour and puppetry…
The audience settle into their seats and are greeted by a set at first glance consisting trestle tables, tablecloths, rugs, lamps etc.. However, the rear part of the set immediately piques your interest. Why are there seemingly a myriad of entrances and exits, placed in a such a mundane suburban environment ? The set seems to taper away from the audience, suggestive of some modern time tunnel ; will the cast be entering a parallel universe ? And then, before we even meet the performers, a cat entertains us.
The play unfolds with an elderly couple preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary bash. After more than half a century together, they know each other, inside and out, for better for worse. Domestic regimes have been established, finessed even, patterns of behaviour understood without verbal enunciation. And yet, setting out modest refreshments for their, as yet unarrived, guests seems to be a source of comical misunderstanding and confusion. It is initially gentle physical humour, suggestive of sitcoms from a by-gone era. But after 50 years, the couple are their own sum of disparate shared experiences, conventions and irritations. Have they spent so long together that they are innately comfortable around each other, or are they about to kill each other ? Jim and Barb’s relationship in this sense is a microcosm for the wider world, in that life is rarely black and white ; they can be simultaneously a myriad of things.
Here, we begin to see shades of the Theatre Of The Grotesque, their relationship functioning as a point of coalescence of life’s contradictions. Beauty is spliced with cruelty, the ludicrous inserted into normality. Hence, a mundane buffet party takes on a slapstick and dark life of its own, the physical clowning having shades of Bottom and stylistically being reminiscent of The League Of Gentlemen and Inside no. 9.
One notable aspect of this Salvador Dinosaur production is that the performers never verbally enunciate words, other than each other’s names. That said, Claire Batholomew and Daniel Tobias skillfully communicate, gutturally conveying “you shouldn’t have” to unseen guests offering gifts. Their ability with physical comedy is also assured, the set tapering being joyful and slapstick timing being pitch perfect. A personal perspective is that the toilet humour lets the show down slightly and they had insufficient material for a full hour, giving rise to the sense that there is a more finessed show waiting here. However, it is nevertheless a sharply executed piece of physical comedy.