Edinburgh Fringe 2010
An international company of talented physical performers and artistes bring the life of Jean Hislop to the stage. Penned by the granddaughter who also plays her, the story unfolds in a mad physical style that is entertaining, yet with all the movement, narrative threads and loud characterizations, the action does not always stick together as a whole and therefore loses some of its ability to interest what may be a slightly bemused audience.
Jean Hislop must have been a hard woman to know, and it must have been a very interesting and personal experience for her granddaughter Susanna to write and perform this show. Her story is told through a series of comic scenes as her friends and family are introduced and we are taken on a trip through key moments of her life with characters such as her two sons, long suffering husband, mother and house servant. She is unashamedly loud, obnoxious and rude to all about her.
Susanna Hislop has written an entertaining script with moments of real comedy and sensitivity. Perhaps it just feels a little too honest and personal, and almost like it is a private, family story about a very difficult and complicated woman. It is written with mostly naturalistic dialogue but the structure is non-linear, throwing the action around sometimes carelessly, with some scenes working more than others. It is when we are shown the vulnerable side of Hislop’s character that the action is treated with more sensitivity and the characters become more real and familiar.
Saying that it may have been easier to watch if the story was told from start to finish with more focus on the humour of her character. Her actions are conveyed as a family dynamic, and therefore the universal character traits we may recognize are often confused. The actors have devised a style that perhaps doesn’t work for this kind of story. Some of the actors, particulary Richard Crawley as the banker brother, and Robin Beer as the husband, stand out as trained, whilst the others have more caricatured or comic portrayals. It could be said that having different styles muddles our ability to perceive the piece, therefore we lose interest in what we are watching.
Another aspect is their use of set and costume. They use a number of different coloured plastic picnic hampers throughout and wear a range of gaudy styles and colours reflecting the 1970’s, the height of Hislop’s life. Although the performers use them with innovation, the hampers quickly become ugly as objects. At one point the action goes back to 1941, and although the actors change costume, it is not enough to shift the tone that has been established by the overbearing set and costumes.
As a piece of physical theatre this is very good. There is talent in the cast and their devising style is fun and inventive. Yet for this show perhaps, it is a little much for the personal nature of the material.