Last night I popped along to the PACT centre for emerging artists, now complete with a lovely area to sit, drink and have those ‘foyer conversations’. It is the start of my ‘Binge on the Fringe 2013’ and here’s the verdict on the first three pieces on offer.
The first show, ‘Jude the Obscure’, written and performed by Alice Williams, was the weakest of the bunch. It’s part homage to Judith Lucy, part exploration of self-deprecating humour and part cosmic creation and destruction. It is most kindly described as awkward. Whilst Williams predominantly tries to emulate Lucy’s persona on stage and she has her mannerisms down pat, she hasn’t yet mastered her comic timing. There are many times I felt I was questioning my own existence during this show and I know that’s partly the point but I don’t think she was hoping to achieve it in this way. Williams’ eclectic material doesn’t hang together so there are some narrative issues also getting in the way of this show’s success.
I know how hard it is to do a one-woman (or man) show but ‘Jude the Obscure’ is a flawed vehicle for a public performance piece. My advice would be for Williams to develop her own stage persona, work on the coherence of the material to clarify its intention and workshop, workshop, workshop.
The second show, ‘The Defence’, directed by Chris Dunstan and written by Dunstan, Matt Abotomey and Catherine McNamara, had me initially thinking I’d stumbled into a try-hard experimental university laboratory. But that’s its gift. Dismiss it and then let it turkey-slap you. Apart from a few editing issues, I was pleasantly surprised by ‘The Defence’ and the clever way it explored misogyny and hypocrisy using Strindberg’s troubled relationship between his wife and the strong literary female characters he created. The show delivers its ideas through gender role-swap, a ‘director’s mind’ role-play and a breaking of the fourth wall. I won’t give much more away because I suggest you check it out for yourself.
Be prepared for some equal opportunity nudity but it is surprisingly integral to the piece and adds to its potency. I did feel their last twist probably over-salted the meat but it didn’t detract from a good night out and an expression of some clever staging and ideas. Performers McNamara, Brett Johnson and Douglas Niebling did a great job embracing Dunstan’s words and concepts, so for those looking for a Fringe experience that is worth the price and don’t mind a tea-bagging with their ticket, I’d recommend ‘The Defence’ should go on your dance card.
Last cab off the rank was ‘Shootin’ Sadie’, written and performed by Natasha Soonchild and directed by Gwenda Blackwell. ‘Sadie’ is a one-woman show with Soonchild bringing all the characters to life in quick and nuanced succession as part of this western genre narrative. Whilst the piece takes a little while to warm up, she has terrific transformational acting skills and creates a myriad of clear and evocative characters on stage. She’s a talented performer and this is an enjoyable show. I think it still needs to find its ending and the longer she sits with this material, the better Soonchild will be at finding the piece’s rhythm and drawing us in a little quicker and will be a tight, polished show, ready for touring. It’s another show that’s worth a viewing, even just to watch an accomplished performer on stage.
And that’s it for the first foray in the Fringe Binge. ‘The Defence’ and ‘Shootin’ Sadie’ get the thumbs up.