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Fringe Online 2021

Low Down

Written and performed by Helen Reuben, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain. Assistant Director Philippa Lawford, Sound by Candice Weaver, Sound by Designed by Louie Whitemore. Lighting by Ben Ormerod, Festival Designer Johanna Town, Lighting Associate Tom Lightbody. Camera work from several angles (Director Mark Swadel, Operator Balazs Weidner), including seventy-five degrees overhead, are deftly sequenced. Till July 25th.


No-one serving in bars is really serving in bars. With friends like ‘Cesca who needs biographers? ‘Cesca asks ‘what do you really do?’ meaning she’s a short-story writer with several poems anthologised in a young writer’s production, treated like shit but it’s a stepping stone. And she wants to hear Marianne’s story too. She’ll use it if Marianne likes.

Marianne’s named after her grandmother, the one person close to her; who’s fragile. Marianne or Mariam’s after Mara, Hebrew for bitter. Marianne’s own mother upped and left when she was a baby, the father a businessman’s never there. There’s John who’s not there, or isn’t there yet, who’s gone. ‘Cesca tells Marianne she has presence, to be careful but also talks openly about periods, though Marianne has darker tales going back to her vanished mother.

There’s a pull to birth-pains, the bringing forth in pain her grandmother inculcates religiously on young Marianne. ‘Cesca both teases and cares, full of brittle cajoling, but there’s a religious DNA in Marianne beyond her. And why Marianne gets Bacon’s lover who killed himself. Nearing thirty Helen Reuben’s young woman is on pills. Like her grandmother and it almost goes the same way. She’s not the only one ODing and it changes her life. Or rather death does.

Marianne’s stories are impressive, just a little bit edgy maybe. ‘Cesca also a bit of a saviour type, fusses round Marianne who’s still fragile. She’s amazed at variations on the Immaculate Conception Marianne can come up with, each time making Jesus realise he’s just a man. ‘Cesca’s not the only one impressed. ‘Careful love. Your words are powerful’ someone else also tells her later.

Saviour’s written and performed by Helen Reuben, directed by Donnacadh O’Briain with assistant director Philippa Lawford. The all-important sound or ring-tones and voices off as well as ambience is brought by Candice Weaver. Designed minimally by Louie Whitemore with five chairs, the lighting by Ben Ormerod brings a mythic chiaroscuro as well as natural sun or bar-lighting, when suddenly the story shifts. Often we’re in shadow, just head-lit in a cool white, half a world away. Sometimes like the paintings Marianne evokes, she’s lit like a Dutch old master.

Sometimes we’re left with Marianne’s intensity, her fears. Nowhere more so when she’s left an unexpected legacy. Her grandmother bequeaths her everything. So with a new man she’s met – so new man, blissfully warm and accepting he’s almost too good to be true – they buy some land and build. Or rather she serves in a pub, he builds a whole house.

There’s more story-telling and it doesn’t have the desired effect. Can men really take the words of women with oracular power outside their shared experience? Once John bangs a nail through his palm and Marianne has to extract it. And soon John’s disturbed by what Marianne seems to bring if not to the table, then his head. And what did she do with those blood clots from her period when caught out near the pub?

The denouement, ‘Cesca mother-henning, door-rapping despite all her yahs and the rapt completion of Marianne’s life’s mission according to her grandmother leaves us in intense light, or somewhere else.

Reuben’s the ideal performer of her own text, ratcheting up intensity whilst never losing a through-line of story, not omitting a fleck of humour that nevertheless underscores a quotidian guffaw in a gasp of vision. The writing’s litanic, evocatively threaded with thematic motifs circling morphing and repeating. Reuben’s Marianne continually rewrites herself too, anticipates events far later from her standpoint of telling from the end backwards, retracts. Full circle. It’s masterly.

For around two-thirds of the narrative, you accept the ride, wondering where the reveals will force it to, as Reuben somehow promises. The last third delivers it. There’s sufficient ambiguity too on two levels, where at least three outcomes etch themselves on your own vision like needle points. A remarkable one-person play, performed to literal fever-pitch by its creator.