Edinburgh 2017 2

Not I / Touretteshero

Jess Thom’s performance of Samuel Beckett’s Not I breaks down not only the text through the interjections of ‘biscuit’ throughout, but the sense that this modernist monologue must be enjoyed by a soberly pensive audience that then talk about it afterwards. Here the audience are introduced and welcomed by Thom, who outlines the parameters of the project and introduces those not familiar with her Tourette’s Syndrome to its manifestation and impact on her performance. The integrated BSL of Charmaine Wombwell is a constant visual score to everything that occurs. There is preparation and a welcome before the performance. After we’re settled, we sit in the dark where we feel the performer raised into position eight feet above the stage, and listen to the rustle of the hood that obscures all but her mouth in accordance with Beckett’s stage instructions. Thom delivers the rapid text clearly and powerfully, as strong a performance and as necessary as any other.

This performance of Not I reclaims Mouth (the central character within the monologue) as a disabled figure, one that Thom states she found instantly familiar. As Mouth narrates the rising tide of words that bursts from her, Thom discusses how it reflects her own experience as someone with Tourette’s. After performing the abstract and oblique monologue, Thom comes back down and sits with us, asking our opinions and answering any questions that we might have about the text or her performance. It’s an intensely open performance of an often-impenetrable text, one that takes it down off some imaginary pedestal and asks its audience to chat about how it can speak to us today. Whilst there has been some pushback recently against the renovation and repurposing of ‘classic’ dramatic texts, exemplified by the firing of Emma Rice from the Globe and the statements of David Hare, Touretteshero’s version of Not I reasserts the value of rethinking new contexts for great writing. Continual reinvention is always preferable to staid orthodoxy.

-       Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Not I - Touretteshero

Not I Audience Information (BAC) 

Jess Thom on Not I - Guardian

Emma Rice Bows Out as Artistic Director of The GlobeNew York Times

An Open Letter to David HareExeunt

Venus and Adonis // Noontide Sun and Christopher Hunter

Incidents of women forcing men to have sex is are perhaps rarely discussed, and yet Shakespeare wrote about it back in 1593 in his poem Venus and Adonis. The poem tells the story of Venus, the goddess of love, and her unrequited passion for Adonis, an extremely handsome young man who would rather go hunting than give in to her seduction. The poem concludes that because Venus’s attack on Adonis ended in his death, love from then on would involve pain and suffering.

Some say it isn’t love that hurts but the expectations that go with it. It is certainly true that all love does not hurt, but forced sex is not love. It is aggression. Although Venus believed her lust for Adonis was love, it was not. Anger, frustration, money worries…all can lead to physical abuse of a partner. Safeline.org.uk report that one in six men have been targets of rape or sexual abuse today. That’s 5 million men in the UK. It can happen to any man, of any age, race, class or sexual identity. Men can feel trapped and isolated by misinformation about male sexual abuse and rape, such as the false view that men can’t be raped and fears that sexual abuse can make you into an abuser.

The psychological harm caused by this sense of humiliation can be very harmful. In Adonis’s case, it led to death. For most men however, the effects, though severe, are not that extreme. In our culture, boys are socialized not to be victims. 'If I am a victim, can I then also be a man?' Tradition tells us big boys fight back.  They don’t call the police to report that they have been victimized, especially by a woman. It doesn’t fit the male tough guy stereotype. And so they minimize or deny what has happened.

That is why sexual assault against men is often not reported. An article in the Telegraph last March reported that female sex offences against men are viewed as a rare and peculiar phenomenon, but this is far from the truth. Determining how common female-perpetrated sexual offending is a very difficult task, but an international study last year found that although it constituted 2.2 per cent of sexual offences officially reported to the police, the rates discovered in victimizations studies were six times that amount. That means more than one in nine sexual offences are committed by women. Venus was not alone in her determination to force Adonis to make love to her. Indeed, it speaks to a long and troublesome tradition. 

- Lynn Ruth Miller

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

 

Venus and Adonis - Noontide Sun

Venus and Adonis - Folger Shakespeare Library

Safeline

Survivors UK

Why Boys Do Not Tell About Sexual Abuse - Psychology Today

Does Love Always Hurt? - Quora Topic

Female Sex Offenders - Telegraph

DollyWould // Sh!t Theatre

Dolly, the first mammal to be cloned from an adult cell, was named after Dolly Parton, the country singer, who has a theme park in America, which is near the University of Tennessee's Forensic Anthropology Center, which is sometimes known as a 'body farm'. Written down, the links between these things feel tenuous, but in Sh!t Theatre's DollyWould, they intermingle in a joyful and chaotic exploration of celebrity, fandom, duplication, preservation and decay.

When she was born, in 1996, Dolly the sheep had a white face, which indicated that she was indeed a clone (otherwise she would have had a black face like her surrogate mother). The research that produced her, at the Roslin Institute near Edinburgh, was exploring ways to introduce new genes into an animal. Already by the 1980s, scientists could do this in mice by manipulating embryonic stem cells, but such cells from larger mammals were not available, so cloning was a potential alternative for enhancing livestock. Today, genome editing tools like Crispr/Cas can be used much more easily to the same effect.

Dolly the sheep was cloned from two cells: one was an egg cell, the other an adult sheep's mammary gland cell. Mammary glands produce milk, whether in ovine udders or human breasts, and this, rather than any similarity between their hair, was why she was named after Dolly Parton. Essential to human life - all mammalian life, in fact - as well as to the Parton story, breasts are an integral part of this show. Through playing clips from media interviews over the years, DollyWould notes that Parton has endured much curiosity about her body, especially her breasts (are they natural or enhanced?), her weight and her sexuality. 

Dolly the sheep died in 2003. Juxtaposing the Dollys' stories with the body farm focuses attention on death, decay and whatever comes after. As for this show and what may come after, Sh!t Theatre seem intent on following Parton's own definition of success: 'Make 'em laugh, make 'em cry, scare 'em a little bit and then leave'.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

DollyWould - Sh!t Theatre

The Life of Dolly - Roslin Institute

Towards Dolly: Edinburgh, Roslin and the Birth of Modern Genetics - Edinburgh University Library Centre for Research Collections 

What is Gene-Editing and How Does It Work? - Royal Society 

Dollywood

This Is What Happens When You Die - Mosaic

The Body Farm - Atlas Obscura

Yvette // Urielle Klein-Mekongo

Urielle Klein-Mekongo, and the character she has created, Yvette, are young. Urielle and Yvette are young, capable, smart and talented women, who share an immense story about Yvette’s childhood trauma, using multi-character monologue, a looped audio score, and a physical presence which is strong but vulnerable, both available to an audience’s gaze yet firmly beyond our grasp. Urielle and Yvette are young, as are all those who experience childhood abuse and sexual assault at a young age. 

Over the summer, the New York State Legislature failed, yet again, to pass the Child Victims Act – to extend the statute of limitations on child abuse cases - or even to bring the law to a vote. And while Yvette lives in the UK, age 13, and her portrayal by Klein-Mekongo is complicated, rich and multi-faceted, I couldn’t help thinking about the other young survivors of abuse who, unlike Yvette, lack the confidence, or means, or mental preparedness to confront their abuser in their lifetime, pursue legal justice, or even find coping mechanisms to deal with trauma.

Yvette is a portrait of a woman at the epicenter of a world heavy with –isms: racism, sexism, body fascism, classism, colorism. And as audience members, we watch with a sense of powerlessness, waiting, hoping for something to disrupt the trajectory which is not inevitable, but feels probable, in a world which rarely privileges or looks out for young people in any manner which is more than just disciplinarily. That Yvette's story exists at all is a tragedy in any society, but the fact that it is as common as it is is an absolute disgrace, and a reminder that these isms- particularly sexism - are deeply rooted and need to be dismantle at every turn. What is rare, though, is the image of such a trauma being performed with such strength, dignity and commitment - the audience can watch with horror what happens to Yvette while simultaneously finding Klein-Kemongo's performance a reminder of the power of storytelling.

- Brian Lobel

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Yvette - Urielle Klein-Mekongo

 On the New York State Child Victims Act - NY Daily News

Rates of Violent Crime and Sexual Offences - Office of National Statistics (UK)

Further Support: Rape Crisis England and Wales 

Race and Gender at Edinburgh Fringe: Excerpts from the Diary of a Black Woman at the Edinburgh Fringe by Selina Thompson - Exeunt

Hyperthymesia // Cece Otto

In the world today, there are between twelve and twenty-five documented cases of hyperthymesia, also known as highly superior autobiographical memory (HSAM). People living with this, are able to remember most of their life events. Their recall can be incredibly detailed including the weather, events, emotions and sensations of any given day. All these memories are mentally catalogued and remembered with astounding accuracy. Vivid sequences of events are almost trapped in time, living forever as they are…unaltered by the usual process of re-remembering an event from the distance of time passing.

Cece Otto delivers a one woman-show inspired by these individuals. We glean a sense a life never forgotten; cascading in all its happiness, joy, shame, disgust, embarrassment and sadness. Most affecting is the reveal that the emotions attached to these memories remain potent (demonstrated by Otto's character revealing they are still furious about something that happened when she was five years old). 

It feels like lots of models for increasing a sense of wellbeing (mindfulness, meditation, yoga) encourage one to be present and/or ‘let go’. Difficult or traumatic events hook themselves into our memory and are often re-triggered by other, separate but related circumstances. Revisiting these events to understand them and find a little breathing space, the tiniest bit of relief is already quite an undertaking that can require the sensitive mediation of a mental health professional. So, what happens when you live with hyperthymesia and it is a near impossibility to ever let go of emotional attachments to a memory? How do you come to terms with a difficult moment when it lives on in the sharp focus of the present? Might a person with hyperthymesia relate to lying, fictions or speculation differently, because their own mind has no need for such inventions when telling their own stories?

An infallible memory challenges much of our understanding that recalling memory is predominately a process of recalling ever-changing versions of that memory. Remembering everything as it is-was, crams a brain full. Many people with hyperthymesia stem their barrage of memories by writing them down. Something about visually storing memories by giving form and language must help contain them. Hyper-real by comparison to someone living without hyperthymesia, these memories line up, attentive and unimaginably close. Permanently in order. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hyperthymesia - Cece Otto

Total Recall: The People Who Never Forget - Guardian

9 Facts About People Who Remember Everything About Their Lives - Mental Floss

Meet The Man Who Remembers Everything - NBC News

Remembering Everything: Superpower or Burden? - Plaid Zebra 

Memory Is Inherently Fallible And That’s a Good Thing - Technology Review

Eve // Jo Clifford and National Theatre of Scotland

Eve represents one of a number of shows that documents trans experiences at the fringe in 2017, its monologue format flashing back through the life and thoughts of its writer and performer Jo Clifford. Upsettingly familiar narratives emerge over the course of its highly personal narrative. Of gender specialists as the gatekeepers to treatment. Of Inadequate provision for those seeking help, and shame and oppression preventing others from ever revealing who they are or would like to be.

There are multiple levels of history here, from 1950s boarding schools and 1960s adolescence to 1990s lectureships and parenthood. We are told that this is the ninety-first play Clifford has written, and the craft and the weight of this experience leave her personal narrative technically and theatrically precise and poised. The language is honed, every word, to reflect the odd moments that make up a life. The structure of Eve similarly avoids a linear chronology, living in the medium of ‘queer time’ referred to throughout. The space of the theatre, like the space of memory, is separate from the everyday progression through the world.

Whilst the content is deeply personal, Clifford’s biographical tracing gestures to larger debates around trans identities and the dissolution of old binaries and absolutes. As much as Trump, the governor of North Carolina and other forces of regression might try to beat back the tide, through continued work and determined sharing, artists like Clifford, audiences, and especially young people are working to ensure that trans identities continue to be acknowledged. It is a generational privilege and obligation to ensure that oppression lessens. As the old quote goes, from Theordore Parker through Martin Luther King Jr and Obama, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice’. But it must be bent, for justice and tolerance comes from hard work and determined engagement in a process of change.

- Lewis Church

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

EveJo Clifford

A Look at Trans Shows at the FringeThe List

A Vision for Change: Acceptance Without Exception for Trans People - Stonewall

Trans Mission: How to Tell Trans Stories on Stage and Screen – Fury, for the Guardian

A Comprehensive List of Trans Autobiographies – TG Forum

Hymen Manoeuvre // Evelyn Mok

During her teenage years, Evleyn Mok protected her hymen with ‘a ninja-like focus’. Such candid humour effervesces throughout her show Hymen Manoeuvre. Mok weaves a multi-stranded show around her heritage, generational differences, sex, body shaming, and the personal/political intersections of institutionalised racism, classism and sexism. In the intimate setting of Bunker 1 (Pleasance), Mok losing her virginity at twenty-five is the story tussled into the foreground with plenty of awkward interaction with male audience members. Mok repeating the word ‘vagina’ or ‘my vagina’ feeling palpably radical to some.

And there it is - the discomfort that some may feel at a woman of colour speaking about her vagina a lot, giving a detailed description of her breasts out of a bra, preferring cake to her ‘first time’, shrieking a little, taking up space like she is meant to be there, being funny and maybe - more disruptive in a comedy show - not being funny…

Mok’s writing upends expectations. She critiques racist, sexist, fat-phobic stereotypes by teasing, unravelling and morphing them. More often than not, after a story that sees her bemused, abused or disempowered, her punchlines land the agency firmly back in her hands. This feminist act of claiming power is one in need of tireless repetition to counter the daily aggressors - the manspreaders, the revenge porn video senders, the stand up comedians who spill the beans to their other stand up mates about sleeping with a 25 year old virgin, these mates who then make comedy routines about it…The latter happened to Mok. Her intimacies and right over them became appropriated into someone else’s material. 

Patriarchy teaches girls to be nervous that boys will be trading secrets about them i.e. school gossip or sexting made public. Women are taught simultaneously to guard our bodies for fear of humiliation but loosen them up just the right amount for male pleasure. Mok’s is the too familiar tale of public shaming and Hymen Manoeuvre could be seen as Mok’s way of wrestling back control and making sure people hear her experiences on her own terms. 

As she hurtles us through her autobiography, what opens up is patriarchy’s messages that there is something essentially shameful about the female form and female pleasure. It seems to be only some time after losing her virginity, that Mok asks herself if she had good time. She did not. The suppression of talking about female pleasure within sex education and wider media accompanies the shame many girls and women feel about their bodies. What’s more, female bodies frequently become funny - something to draw ridicule from and, as in the case of Mok, this humour is leveraged to assert male social power. 

Oppressive power structures take so much multi-stranded work to undo. In tales that continually resist collapse into any singularity, we glimpse the burden of this effort. She wonders whether by making the show she is indulging in her shame. She shares the incessant, looping questions she has about someone’s intentions when she first encounters them. At times, there is a sharpness to her tone and the room is silent. The shield of her wit sometimes slips and we as audience are sitting quietly with someone un-filtering themselves and letting us in. Maybe to be this funny and defiant, you have to cut close to your own bones. 

- Alexandrina Hemsley

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hymen ManoeuvreEvelyn Mok 

The Pleasure Principle - International Woman’s Health Coalition

Bitch Media

Eight Women Of Color Comedians on Sexism, Racism and Making People Laugh - Wear Your Voice

Misogyny on Facebook: A Rant About ‘Vagina Cleavage’ - Gal Dem

Triage! A Nursing Cabaret // Zuleika Khan

Love your nurse. 

Fight for your nurse. 

Support your nurse’s selfcare.

Respect your nurse’s training and intelligence.

Recognise your nurse’s incredible emotional labour.

Make sure your nurse gets a raise. 

Stop buying ‘Sexy Nurse’ outfits (Zuli can, and does look awesome, but most y’all should not until stereotypes of nurses are destroyed)

Prioritise your nurse every once in a while so you say ‘Nurses and Doctors’, because it’s fucked up that it’s ALWAYS ‘Doctors and Nurses’.

Talk honestly with your nurse – they can see right through you.

Help nurses resist burnout – physically and emotionally.

Strike in solidarity with your nurse.

Learn from your nurse.

Laugh with your nurse.

Obey your nurse.

Zuleika Khan has much to teach the world about nursing and the attitudes, stereotypes, conscious and unconscious biases and politics which affect how the profession of nursing is discussed, funded, berated, demeaned and looked over inside the medicine/health care hierarchy. But despite the mistreatment, the lack of time for selfcare, and the emotional labor which comes from such intensive patient experience, Khan’s world is one which seems motivated and inspired by her profession. Underneath each comedic portrayal of a patient or jibe about a doctor’s patronizing glances, is a dedication to a cause, a commitment to her family’s healthcare lineage (Khan grew up in her family’s medical surgery) and a love for patients. 

The UK (alongisde much of the world) has a crisis in nursing, as caused by NHS cuts, public sector pay freezes, Brexit on the horizon, and a general lack of care for some of our society’s most essential first responders. When Khan first appears in a ‘sexy nurse’ costume – and reveals the very-believable fact that ‘nurse’ is the number one sexual fantasy/fetish – there is a stark reminder of how casual sexism and deeply embedded misogyny prevent the development of a truly non-hierarchical or holistic healthcare system. If nursing is gendered as female, and we still underpay, under-respect and under-acknowledge so many professions gendered as female… well, how can we expect our nurses to have time for the critical work of selfcare, to feel pride in their work, to feel as part of a team helping the whole community. 

Khan uses her Triage! cabaret as medicine: sometimes it burns going down, sometimes it makes you woozy, sometimes it makes you laugh, sometimes it makes you emotional.  Khan uses Triage! to collect her allies (the nurses in the audience nodded with vigor throughout), humorously shame those who don’t know what a speculum does (or looks like), and inspire new, more radical perspectives on nursing, a profession which – whether we engage with it everyday or only in a crisis – remains critically important and critically under-supported.  

- Brian Lobel

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Triage! A Nursing Cabaret - Zuleika Khan

Brexit and Nursing - Guardian

No Show - Gender Stereotypes in Circus

Nursing and Striking - Independent

Selina Thompson on Self-Care at the Fringe - Exeunt

On Nursing and Burnout - National Nurses United

PreScribed (A Life Written for Me) // Viv Gordon

In PreScribed, made by Viv Gordon based on verbatim text from interviews with GPs and research at the University of Bristol, there is an air of nostalgia for how healthcare used to be. The ideal seems to resemble the life of Dr John Sassall, an English country doctor whose dedicated, all-consuming approach to caring for the people in his community was captured by John Berger in A Fortunate Man (1967). But, as Dr Gavin Francis has written, 'in today’s culture of working-time-directives and the commercialisation of disease it would be almost impossible to sustain'. (It may have been almost impossible in the 1960s too, if Sassall hadn't had what was then called manic depression).

The voices of some of today's GPs, chosen and channelled by Gordon onstage as a medical 'everywoman' character, speak about lifetimes of (over) achievement, trying to meet parents' expectations, years and years of study. Once qualified, they then found the profession was even harder than they'd expected. They are constantly being squeezed by NHS funding cuts, the churn of government policies and the ever-decreasing time they have to spend with each patient. No wonder their own mental health can suffer as a result, but who can they turn to for help? Their GP? 'Telling someone who does the exact same job as you that you can't manage is impossible'.

Hearing only the doctors' point of view risks making the show a bit like a one-sided tennis match. The only other character on stage, the practice manager, remains silent throughout and patients are initially represented by jellies on plates, vulnerable and easily smashed. There is little counter argument or context. For example, the doctors believe their profession has one of the highest suicide rates in the UK. This is based on research, but in fact, the latest statistics show that male doctors are at a lower risk of suicide than the general population, and while female healthcare workers are at a higher risk, this mostly relates to nurses. This is not to diminish the importance of GPs getting support whenever they need it, but current mental health services in the UK fail many more people than just those who work in them.

There is no doubt, however, that increasing pressure on GPs and other healthcare workers while ignoring their own health needs can only damage the NHS. We can't go back to 1967, but for the future of the NHS to be sustainable, we need to support it properly, as well as the people who make it work.

- Michael Regnier

 

Links relevant to this diagnosis:

PreScribed (A Life Written for Me) - Viv Gordon

Who Cares for the Clinicians? Spiers et al - British Journal of General Practice (2016) 

NHS Spending Per Person Will be Cut Next Year, Ministers Confirm - The Independent 

John Berger's A Fortunate Man: A Masterpiece of WitnessThe Observer 

Mental Health Staff Recruitment Plan for England - BBC News

Suicide by Occupation, England: 2011-2015 - Office for National Statistics (2017) 

Help if You're Feeling Suicidal - The Samaritans