Fringe Online 2021
Facilitators for Edition 3 include Milli Bhatia, Ellie Horne, Jade Lewis, Lucy Morrison, Sam Pritchard and Izzy Rabey. Till April 11th.
This continues to be a vital series and lifeline – a cutting-teeth go-to for so many writers, actors, directors. Storytelling’s more on show but there’s no easy resolution. Several times you feel a play might go somewhere quite wild, if it expands.
The third series crackles with satires and freedoms – the freedom to fail, satire that turns back and bites itself. This is the cusp of our world and these dramatists take ways in that have little to do with conventional exhilaration or even aspiration.
We’re coming back to a troubled dark, and when we hit the light we might be streetwise and street-perilous all at once.
Each week the diverse sub-edits as it were produce the ‘Front Page’ item, the ‘Con-Troll Room’ and ‘Horoscope’ slot for a particular take. It’s intriguing to see how each writer or team responds to that brief. Some choose not to use this format.
Crocus of Hope
The Front Page item’s always the ensemble’s stage-setter or themes that follow.
This week – Boris Johnson’s ‘the crocus of hope is poking through… both literally and metaphorically’ gets riffed as a faux-fest strapline set against a chorus line of ’fuck the machine, catastrophe reigns/who will profit from this?’ and a very different sort of sound from a kazoo-like sax as some of the week’s cast sing skirl cavort and dance all spotlit with fantastical insouciance round the Downstairs theatre. There’s even confetti.
As a bonfire of political vanities it’s exuberant, spray-painting anger and packs great lines and is distinctly tuneful, but as a relentless spectacle with no modulation or – necessarily – development, its impact is on the converted; which might just mean the majority of the population by now. But does it make you feel better!
Scripted by almost the entire writing team this week – Travis Alabanza, Anupama Chandrasekhar, Rabiah Hussain, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Anthony Neilson, Rebecca Pritchard – there’s music composed and written by Nick Powell. It’s performed by Isabel Adomakoh Young, Deborah Bahi, Ms Sharon Le Grand, Beth Hinton-Lever, Tony Jayawardena, Caleb Obediah with Saxophonist Charlotte Glasson.
Emily (Glitched) in Paris
We’re in a restaurant, a TV screen blares just off, Netflix Emily – whose eyes witness waiter Scott Karim’s Sameer serve her and introduce Paris – is profoundly happy: she’s buying for fashion, wants to experience everything. Though she seems to be rather intent on her phone.
Sameer with a toss of the cork has difficulty in getting any nuance across, like the fact that he has to live outside the city. Initially he seems mordantly amused. It’s Sameer who informs, it’s Sameer who becomes the silent interlocutor and asks Emily questions. She falls silent.
The glitch is as you’d expect colonialisms which won’t interest Emily one bit. She’s the kind of American person who’ll say ‘Oh it’s so unpleasant I really can’t stand to think of things like that….’ though she gets little chance here, silencd perhaps by Smaeer’s strange authority.
There’s sudden screen monochrome warnings we’re changing to oracular mode, an account of that sexy French bridge across the river there being where the French police killed 100 protesters in 1961. Edith Piaf’s used as never before, and the gradually deafening song is of course the anthem for oubliettes.
Josh Elliott and Eve Leigh
Performed by the laconic and quixotic Siobhan McSweeney, Bernie is an astrologer. One whose personal investment as she clacks away on an old Olympia (so retro-Geldhorn) in a corner full of mirrors and screens, becomes apparent every so often.
For those expecting the alcohol hinted at in a wine bottle to create an apotheosis of revelation, well, it begins to happen. Nevertheless the swipe-away moments – breaks in narrative – suggest as Bernie works through the entire predictive zodiac, her crises are more existential.
Every sign seems headed for something a bit better. Tell that to the figures seems an underlying subtext as McSweeney plays with suffering Scorpio, then dismisses them to happiness.
There’s a repertoire of jump-cuts. Various camera angles being deployed, and the predictions seem headed one way south (Aquarius seems upside down on the ceiling), then swim, like Pisces, away. An unsettling disquisition on settling scores, and then somehow conferring benediction. And suddenly it’s daylight, we’re out. Perhaps the predictive too can die with the daily figures.
When the worlds ends I hope I’m doing karaoke
Performed by Isabel Adomakoh Young this is a hymn to a final resistance lit purple in the backstage area, full of opportunities to slide around the end of promise to the end of the world, somewhere in a club of Dalston. Where better? Queer Apocalypse isn’t a bad strapline.
Young has a strong voice, and panache though with a lot of script she isn’t as yet entirely off it and carried it with her on occasion. With so much singing, maybe Apocalypse is dizzy and questions itself.
Siobhan McSweeney shows no joy division here. With lockdown fulfilment orders and clicks have dominated our lives – indeed Deborah Bruce ahs written a scintillating moving piece for Orange Tree on the same subject.
With a set and editing McSweeney returns as a woman doninated a sibilant alter ego that seems to predict her every move, piling on more bright white satin sheets, and starting to bury the solitary purchaser. Glitches including a singular angle on McSweeeney’s face stands in for glitch delivery. More intriguing is the subsong McSweeney delivers, as the political unconsciousness of the fulfilment sing-song.
This accesses the purchase algorithms, the way consumerism becomes a sly pusher, profiling our weaknesses and the final images of McSweeney, progressively traumatised, give pause.
The Weather Room
Where Thing Go to Die
Performed by Susan Brown this might be another Apocalypse, just as wild a karaoke as Alabanza’s play, slowed like a dream.
Brown inhabits with a curator’s sad art what might be screened as the bottom of the sea, a camera lighting on object after object transfigured into something rich and strange.
Each one though as the title suggests comes freighted with history and each brings damage. A failed condom that caused twins has travelled what seems light years – the universe is invoked – to destroy sea life. It’s true of many thoughtless disjecta membra of a plastic planet. Soft toddler toothbrushes petulantly thrown away, and a litany of loss for another species.
Ode to the Underground and Ms Sharon Le Grand
And it’s Ms Sharon Le Grand herself who performs, introducing us to a louche part of the Court, baby blue and lemon panels back-dropping a bar with detached shop window mannequin legs. It’s an impressive set, cluttered with large abandoned lettering and dead plants trailed over them, abandoned seating, an abandoned diva.
Emerging from the underground after years Ms Sharon Le Grand confides, we get an intro of ferocious glee and an octaves wide from soprano to gravelly rendition of ‘Boys cheeky girls, girls cheeky boys’ rather like a dementing drone-bass: part-vaudeville, part-torch song, part mad aria. Suddenly, it’s a ‘sit down you’re being tragic’ moment.
The Foreign Invasion – or – Mr Johnson, taking control of things
This is performed by Nigel Barrett – seen on a bicycle – with audio delivered by Mothersdale – who opens with a history lesson on 1793 and a cartoon if Gilray’s George III relieving himself on French warships. It develops as a splendid rantlet guying xenophobia, with the usual enemy, ourselves if we’re watching this (give or take a critic), outlined. And it’s over in two minutes.
Hell. the poet Geoffrey Hill once noted, is silent. The compensatory strategies of lockdown often devolve on click purchases, in solitude for their company. Bruckman proposes it’s ourselves we consume, or as an earlier poet John Clare put it: ‘I am the self-consumer of my woes.’
‘All buy myself don’t want to be all buy myself…. Is a story-boarded disquisition on solitude, ‘give me back my eyeballs… your mind is my only home…. Eat the cat’? The litanic self-lacerating ‘chew me grind me rip me up, sick me up…’ literally returns all the words on a rapid loop. It’s what consumerism does to us, a feedback loop feeding on ourselves. An effective affecting text, again delivered in two minutes.
Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti
Eulogy for a dead life
Easily one of the strongest from this series, the stark simplicity of the monologue performed with quiet intensity by Sukh Ojla against the Court’s mezzanine balcony, elegises the passing of a difficult man, a Brexit-loving but generous patriot who fed the truck-drivers stuck at Dover yet wanted those EU people out of our lives.
Painfully prising apart prejudice like the fibrillated rasping of her father’s last breaths in hospital, a critically loving daughter reconciles with the memory of one who didn’t understand what brought him to this end, what damage dragged him through life.
Neilson’s known for his absurdist obliquity, and curiously short forms like this even with such wonderful premise as unfolds, become increasingly direct, punching home elements of Neilson’s ideas even more memorably than one or two of his longer theatre works.
Tom Fisher performs as the subject of an unnamed and uncredited journalist on a walkabout round the Court – there’s several refreshing forays like this about the space behind the theatre.
We meet Fisher’s Agony Edgar, himself in agony, asked to solve trivial problems of others conveyed by this interlocutor whilst living as a homeless junkie. Racked with coughing he’s lounged next to an oil barrel with a blanket. Perfect post-capitalist metaphor. Since his father hanged himself when Edgar was 21, he’s been injecting. That’s his advice to one needle-phobic Rosie. ‘You have nothing to fear but fear itself’ will never sound the same.
And another, Sue preambling with her luxury lockdown wonders how to treat swimming-pool ear: catch pneumonia, get hospitalized, enjoy hospital tinned peaches. Each obliquity’s rewarded with coins.
Neilson’s character rewards anxiety with a stark parable of his life placing the question to the side of itself.
Bereft Damian wonders: Does God hate us? We’re treated to an epiphany when Edgar was eight, a seaside trip with his mother a year before she was murdered, but hurrying away for another punter. God doesn’t care. There’s freedom. To a question on sex fetishism and masks Edgar surprises everyone.
Neilson lets the sequence of question and parable throw up its own injections of beatitude. Further he questions poverty porn, and the tendencies of those who feel anxious to seek solace and advice from one in a far worse position. As a western dream of self-reinforcement
A Fascist’s Guide to Democracy
To the intro and outro of Nessun Dorma we’re in the world of influencers.
Performed by Tony Jayawardena we’re treated to one of those instructor videos, how to turbocharge your business life, sex-life around, a mix of high-powered mega-guru and influencer (and you pay to subscribe), though Jayawardena’s Farage-like become a fascist dictator.
Blackly comic it interprets fascism as a late capitalist gambit, a consumer’s guide to step-by-step cultivating thugs and onwards through stages all too plausible but neatly linked to how fascism and capitalism have mutually reinforced each other. Jayawardena’s agency is a nuanced ramp-up of excitement, that gradual crescendo, like all the most exciting dictators you could ever hope not to meet.
The Blank Space
She Blows Ltd.
We’re in a hair salon with a large cast – Susan Brown, Tony Jayawardena, Beth Hinton-Lever, Sophie Melville, Tom Mothersdale, and Sukh Ojla. Time to look forward as they re-open. You might change your mind.
Brown wants it all off, just as well she has lovely cheek-bones. Brown’s speculations are relatively unprintable, jagging through normative hairdresser dialogue. The actual hair is a separate affair on a mannequin, a little distant from the client – a creative use of distancing, the inanimate life of hair a metaphor to our body’s commodification. And quiet rage the pandemic has heightened.
The simultaneity of two crossed conversations – Brown’s monologue now normalises, Mothersdale the male hairdresser (not Brown’s) relating how a near-naked professional woman. arrives not for an obvious assumption of sex but to make a confession. Browns’ dresser Melville orates a nihilistic state-of-the-nation phillipic and Hinton-Lever innocently asks Mothersdale a question and is subjected to a different rage.
Some of the narratives are repeated with new customers -Jayawardena and Ojla. By this time the sparer lyric exchanges between the four, slowed into an eddy of wonder – and appalled responses.
Finally left to themselves the two dressers Melville and Mothersdale decide on a course of action, a simple walk through the streets. But not with our eyes.
As an exercise in interior monologues exploding into the said, the liminal sense of alienation and self-erasure, this packs a visceral punch.
This fourth day produces some of the strongest work in Living Newspaper #3 so far.
Caleb Obediah’s a red-waiscoated lift boy as enthusiastic apologist for post-covid joy, save for that smell – well dumping those bodies in the basement with all those losers. Positive vibes and clichés recruited – glass ceilings for unaccountable levelling-up funding. As for basement losers, Obediah’s an eloquent explainer, but pressing our buttons, will he too be abandoned with everyone else in the lift? Can losers fix it?
An enjoyable shaft of a metaphor, with a hitherto-unused part of the Court.
What Were You Hoping For?
Were in Guardian dating report territory, those blind dates set up by the Guardian where the couple are then asked t report afterwards, including out of 10.
So Scott Karim and Lucy Mangan hook up online to discuss dating, then arrive. Then report their responses, then return – it’s not entirely clear if they’re different people since their characters seem consistent. He’s an office man overly anxious to self-endorse his self-definition as ‘feminist’ and reports sexist behavior to HR. It’s a neat summation of male and female sexual expectations, at a first meeting. He’s so eager he doesn’t listen – she barely gets out the fact she’s a landscape gardener. She’s 8.5 out of 10, he might be just… ‘nice’. The most substantial work of the last day of #3.
The Long Look & Long Listen
Stay Alert & Truth, Truth, Lies
Johnson’s necessarily been co-opted by Court Newspaper writers. More often than he deserves perhaps, but here at least antiphonal voices of Harding and Gove intro a shadow-dance of silhouetted performers behind three polychrome screens who cavort, clap, curl down.
They’re Adomakoh Young, Deborah Bahi and Lucy Mangan who briefly jump out of those silhouettes then drop back into more voice-overs. Neat glitch edits and finally after this overlong prologue stuffed with Johnson (himself a study in overlong) they intercut a rapid triologue on walking safely home, in a different take on ‘stay alert’ as Sarah Everard’s murder is alluded to. ‘Be dead’ enjoins one, and another notes baked-bean stains on her work tunic, like blood.
A dance sequence Johnson-spliced succeeded by sudden more urgent dialogue driven by tragic events overtaking it which is the real play. Dance with lies, talk with the truth. It’d be good to marry right-wing populism with the misogyny culture that makes murders and abusers of policemen in a longer piece, but there’s not space for that here. Ditch dancing Johnson perhaps.