Edinburgh Fringe 2023
Picture the scene, a group of people ‘trapped’ in the ferocious loop of their past and present – struggling to make any tangible plans for their future. Welcome to ‘Club Purgatorio.’ The initial premise for this story reminded me of of the Hotel series from American Horror Story (trapped souls in a familiar place where they can find connection and solace but also significant pain – between two worlds). Purgatorio is a unique fusion of ideas, a cocktail of young beings dancing their nights away within a club setting, but this club has a greater sub-text – the fragility of gender and what this means to anyone going through changes of acceptance, how do we say goodbye to our former self, what elements of ourself our kept and what must we say goodbye to? Frances Rippy (Director and Producer) expresses, “We see a trans man die at the start of the piece, but this isn’t a story about trans pain, it’s a story about the necessary death of a past self and the challenging, painful, but ultimately blissful rebirth of the truer version made in your own image.”
This production was beautifully directed by Frances Rippy and Lou Sydel to encompass ensemble led physical theatre, with moving heart felt conversations: in the hidden toilet or the smoking area – where these characters found their safety – their comfort.
Remaining shows: 23-26th August (11pm)
Venue: The space Triplex
As I walked into the theatre, bodies remain on the stage floor, beginning to move in unison – connected in their found hope, repeating slow physical movements that unit them in some way. What transpires very quickly is what feels like the torture of a new addition to Club Purgatorio, as the audience is forced to visibly witness the suffering of Me (played by Theo Duclo), as he begins the ‘process’ of grieving his former self. The audience feel incredibly empathetic towards his character and the different stages of his new world, saying goodbye is cathartic but also agonising. Agonising, as we see what shortly transpires as any inclination to relive old memories or make new ones; results in a controlled burst of pain inflicted by the Bouncer and Bartender of Club Purgatorio (Alex Austin and Julianna Austin). Despite the club workers controlling behaviour, they do burst into more lighter moments, demonstrating repetitive mechanical behaviours – that could be seen as supporting the rebirth of a new identity or rather, exposing the characters to the pain inflicted upon them in society. Always on hand to offer another drink, but this in turn comforts the characters for a brief moment whilst making them feel generally worse and exposing them back to the ‘Groundhog day’ existence of their lives in these few walls.
Me seeks to connect with new people in the only way he’s allowed – through movement. This show has many up-beat electronic dance sections of choreography but you cannot help but notice there is always one person unable to enjoy the music. When Me attempts to make conversation the element of torture is always looming. When Me sees an unknown dancer, he’s in awe of her talents and confidence, the other characters are transfixed by her, not attempting conversation but simple ‘stare’ from afar whilst tilting their heads. Me continues to look for a connection, only to be rejected at every avenue. I particularly enjoyed how the physical theatre blended from quite abstract stylised sequences to more realistic heartfelt conversations – This is not easy to do, but Rippy and Sydel blended different styles of theatre with conviction and imagination throughout.
The choreography in this performance is directed with poignant symbolism, highlighting how under the layers of control there is a society of individuals who want to connect and to embrace their own identity when they feel they can. As the ‘pressure’ from the workers of the club begins to lose momentum, the egalitarian spirit of the non-verbal dance is always there, as the characters fight through their discomfort to support each other. In places the use of screaming felt slightly over used, perhaps the story could explore further the character’s individual response to their own evolution of how they view themselves, which definitely emerged in broken ‘private’ conversations . When the characters started to emerge as individuals, splitting from the pressure and substance abuse, we see a welcomed shift in the narrative. One elongated cord is placed through the audience, a cord that connects us all and allows us to reflect on the areas of our life that anchors us together – within this space is the friendship evident with this amazing cast, as we watch a short film filled with laughter, joy and celebration – a foundation – a community.
Shortly after this film finishes, the characters begin to finally ‘see themselves’ and feel at ease to have relatively normal conversations, as opposed to brief interactions of questions unanswered. The moment of revealing eachother’s true self as they remove their ruffled head pieces was truly moving. To me this symbolised a moment of unity, whereby the character Me, can finally be themselves but doesn’t have to eradicate all memories from his past – rather to create new ones. Purgatorio is an innovative story, that will lead to different conclusions, whilst feeling highly relatable. Without giving too much away, this devised physical piece creates a space that celebrates the queer community, but also leaves the audience with questions about the individuals who we see are constantly suffering in ‘shame’ for who they are fighting to become in their reality. The truth is the fight is on-going, but works like this with innovative directing gives representation for the LGBTIQA+ community and keeps the door firmly open to keep the dialogue going.