EdFringe 2017

Wretched // Richard Stott

Richard Stott’s stand-up show documents his experiences as an actor with a disability. Born with Poland syndrome, a condition that resulted in an underdevelopment of his hand and chest, he recounts his experience of existing in an awkward position between identifying as disabled and not due to his ‘non-conformist left hand’. Re-enacting the misguided attention of casting agents and directors, his jokes orbit the fallibility of arbitrary labels, and the grim irony of his position. Once told that he was too young to play Richard III, it was nevertheless acceptable for a marginally older actor to adopt a clawed hand in the role. One incongruity with the character’s body as written was acceptable, whilst the other was not.

Stott’s performance traces the shifting attitudes to disability through the prism of the experience of a performer, from the Ancient Greece through the Victorian era to his own today. Drawing on a memory from a holiday in Athens, Stott asks what his potential as an actor in the Theatre of Dionysus might have been. He asks if he would have been able to perform, or thrown from the rocks in the distance as an ‘imperfect’ specimen. Or would he have participated in the Victorian freak show, making money from his difference? Is it better to hide his disability or engage with it?

The question of disabled actors and disabled roles is one that periodically emerges in high-profile public debate. Eddie Redmayne, Daniel Day Lewis, Tom Hanks and Sam Clafin have all engaged in this ‘disability drag’, as Roger Ebert once put it, to extended protest and debate. The ‘shortcut to an Oscar’ route for playing disabled characters is a cliché, and is now at least questioned when it emerges. The other side of this coin, the stereotyping of the disabled actors, within the work they are able to secure, is equally problematic. The pressure to resist poorly written characters that correspond to a disability is a dilemma within an ultra-competitive casting climate, where any work is to be treasured. Those who manage to negotiate this, are few and far between. Even disabled actors at the peak of their fame still face this difficult negotiation, as Peter Dinklage has attested to. Diversity quotas are a blunt instrument, and as Stott observes, it is one that often leaves actors like him, with a disability but not particularly disabled, in the moral dilemma of grasping the opportunity or denying the work.

-       Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Wretched - Richard Stott

Actor Has Fingers Replaced With ToesHuffington Post

Poland Syndrome - Genetics Home Reference

Disability Drag - Roger Ebert

Peter Dinklage on Choosing Roles Carefully - The Talks

Out // Rachael Young with Dwayne Antony

Rachael Young and Dwayne Antony choreograph their challenge to homophobia and transphobia in Caribbean communities through a stylised repetition of tasks and dance steps pushed to the limits of endurance. Their two bodies exist in relation, not only in the obvious moments of unison or canon, but in the instances of quiet as well, in the peeling of oranges and the unzipping of shoes. Two bodies, poised and beautiful, unapologetically black and queer. One of the most impactful moments of the performance features the voice of a pastor haranguing the ‘immorality’ of homosexuality and of trans identities, looped and warped to accompany a lean and bend, in and out of a strict band of light. The performers faces appear and recede, into light and out of sight into darkness. The hateful narrative of the soundtrack loses its legibility through its rhythmic hijack.

Out engages with the legacy of colonial laws that still permeate the legal systems of many Caribbean countries, buggery laws that foster and endorse a wider homophobia. The histories that affect cultural perceptions of sexuality involve the world, and the contemporary experience of individuals in diasporic communities echoes the legacy of varied oppression. Whilst Western societies congratulate themselves for increasing (but still not universal) tolerance, the impact of its role in the origination of these attitudes must be still acknowledged and reflected on.

The fierceness of the movement in Out, the physical conviction and relentless power reflects an often-unacknowledged strength in difference. It reflects the egregiousness of masculinist and cisnormative dialogues, and the fragility of cultural stereotypes. These different signifiers circle throughout, race and sexuality, bodies and power. Dancing in abandon to dancehall in the opening, a genre that became a musical byword for homophobia in the 1990s, the two performers assert their place in wider culture, the importance of their identities and an affirmation of their selves.  

-       Lewis Church


Links Relevant to this diagnosis:

Out - Rachael Young

LGBT Rights in JamaicaEqualdex

Being Black and Gay: The Illusion of InclusionThe Fact Site

 Being Black and LGBT in Britain (2016)Maroon News

Britain Can't Just Reverse the Homophobia It Exported - Guardian

5 Guys Chillin' // King's Head Theatre and Em Lou Productions

As you check into 5 Guys Chillin’, you are handed two condoms and told not to use them during the performance. There’s some irony in the joke as the characters in the show probably wouldn’t want them.

The play is a snapshot of five guys during a chemsex party. This is usually defined as sex where the drugs (G or GHB, crystal meth and mephedrone) are taken before and during a prolonged ‘chill-out’ to prolong and enhance it. As with any other play, it would be wrong to extrapolate too widely, to suggest that it represented all in the “gay community”, itself a lazy term sometimes wrongly used interchangeably with “gay scene.” Both terms imply a complete uniformity of gay and bisexual experience. Nevertheless, a report on a survey of 1000 gay men in London in Lambeth, Southwark and Lewisham suggested that a tenth had had chemsex in the past 4 weeks. Reading into the actual survey though shows that the sample was recruited via “on-line social and sexual networking sites”, so it is unclear how representative it is.

The characters of 5 Guys Chillin’ reminisce about past fuck parties, and the drugs that allow them to party orgasm-free for days. Their conversation is only about sex. Most of them are HIV+, but they are fairly blasé about this as they have a low viral load. They prefer riding bareback anyway and are not all concerned about telling new partners their HIV status; one thinks all gay men should be HIV+ – after all PrEP is the solution. Other STDs are dismissed as curable inconveniences.

Gradually as the drugs start to work, individual differences emerge, with small glimpses of the men's back stories. Cultural pressures led to one guy to getting married, a set-up he has mixed feeling about, even though his wife knows he has sex with men. Others display wistful reflections on a past life without drugs. The guy who feels that being fisted helps someone to connect deeply inside him remains resolutely unquestioning – no regrets there. Strangely, much of this hedonism is reminiscent of attitudes during the 14th century to the Black Death, when desperate people who saw no future for humanity lived for the day and entirely for themselves. The guys in 5 Guys Chillin’ are cavalier about others, but also fatalistic about themselves.

- Alistair Lax


Links Relevant to this Diagnosis:

5 Guys Chillin'

What is Chemsex?New Scientist

The Chemsex Study - Sigmar Research

Chemsex, HIV and STI Transmission - British Medical Journal

Personal Testimony of Chemsex Experience - London Evening Standard

Ensonglopedia of Science // John Hinton

Featuring a song for every letter of the alphabet on a different scientific topic, the ambition of this performance is to make some impressively complicated ideas accessible and enjoyable for younger audiences. N is for neuron, P for Phylogeny and R for Relativity, which comes complete with a rap. And whilst as with any performance that aspires to present 26 moments of genius the hit rate varies,  the clarity of the scientific concepts is maintained throughout. Ensonglopedia of Science is couched in vaudevillian humour, and although the accent used for the ‘Cell Calypso’ is unfortunate, the other humour helps difficult ideas to stick.  

It’s goal of familiarising the young audience with the mechanics of scientific inquiry, foregrounding the central process of a hypothesis tested by experimentation, is vitally important in an era of fake news and alternative facts. As scientists have continually asserted, one of the biggest issues they face is the way that the public understand the language and processes of science. It is essential that both the public and politicians appreciate what is meant by terms like ‘theory’ and ‘proof’ in relation to the research of scientists. Correcting misrepresentations, particularly amongst the young, could help avoid the kind of debate seen around the validity of the science of climate change, for example. Greater scientific education can leave the next generation less susceptible to the distortions of research in the service of political positions.

Hinton is in a long line of performer/scientists that engage with the silly to help foster understanding, from Don Herbert to Bill Nye, a family friendly entertainer and educator. Manic energy and the breakneck speed with which he moves from one song to the next relates to the fizzing of electricity, the vastness of space and the breadth of human inquiry.

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Ensonglopedia of Science - John Hinton

10 Scientific Ideas Scientists Wish You Would Stop Misusing - Gizmodo

The Association of Science Education

Engaging and Educating the Public on Environmental Science - BioMed Central

How to Make Hydrogen - Mr Wizard (Don Herbert)

Climate Debates on Television - Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Siri // La Messe Base with Aurora Nova

The central concept of Siri, using the iOS assistant AI to fulfil a speaking role in the performance, is intriguingly complicated by the biography of Laurence Dauphinais, the actor conversing with the disembodied voice of her phone. As one of the first Canadians created by artificial insemination, Dauphinais shares some unusual certainties about her conception – exact time and place, process and design – that echo the available information about the creation of Siri by Dag Kittlaus at the SRI Artifical Intelligence Centre. Two derivations of ‘AI’ are at play in Siri, artificial insemination as well as intelligence. Continually questioning her phone to answer the deeper, more emotionally resonant questions that arise from the bare facts of her creation provokes unnerving confluences and responses from the now-familiar voice from the phone. Dauphinais plays with this, the answers that might most approach a Turing-test pass instantly undone by repeated and carefully provoked stock answers.

Fragments of songs and films are used to give Siri the illusion of personality. Familiar touchstones like the homicidal HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey, a reference so familiar that it is actually built into the software of Siri itself, are used alongside the autobiography of the performer to question identity, intelligence and the nature of consciousness. As artificial intelligence arrives and becomes part of our lives, these questions become even more essential. Siri provides an anthropomorphisation of external supplementary memory. She is a deferral of the responsibility to remember numbers, the layout of cities or good restaurants near me, and a step towards the normalisation of everyday AI. The performance asks what it means to create it, and to accommodate it into our lives.

Just as Kittlaus saw his creation developed by another, the anonymous donor that provided half of Dauphinais’s genetic makeup is a spectre hanging over even the most technobabble dialogue. Dauphinais recounts how her home DNA test, an increasingly common postal swab, led her to a previously unknown relative and the potential of reconnection. The performance dwells on the risks of pursuing it, asking whether Dauphinais’s biological father might feel differently to now see his anonymous donation realised in a full person as complicated as any other, just as Kittlaus might not recognise the original goals of his creation in the program we carry around today. 

- Lewis Church


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Siri - CanadaHub at Summerhall

Turing Test

Siri Development

History of Artificial Insemination in Canada

The DNA Test as Horoscope - The Atlantic

I Am A Tree // Jamie Wood

I Am a Tree is not a return to nature as much as a reassertion that the separation between humans and other living things is not absolute, that the human body and its processes are as natural in their rhythms as the growth of a tree or the migrations of birds. It is a memory and a eulogy, to nomadism and to mortality and the fallibility of living things. Jamie Wood greets the audience by listening to their hearts, laying his head on their chests and expelling their worries like a cresting whale.

The show loosely follows the progress of Wood’s journey by foot from Coventry to South Wales, leaving his young baby and partner at home in order to reconnect to the wild. The story meanders like its protagonist, but like any journey the progress is more important than the destination. His walk is a peculiar kind of mindfulness exercise, a mental health time-out in a relentless period of change. Wood’s life at home haunts the piece, never really spoken of in detail but always lurking beyond the next hill. Questions of responsibility vie with a commitment to self-realisation. The comedy in his journey too is always on the verge of tipping into abstraction and doubt. Wood’s clowning and slapstick blurs into meditative tasks, an unlooping of bootlaces slowly moving from Chaplin to Mona Hatoum.

I Am a Tree also asks that the audience use their own bodies in service of the story, whether using a blowdart to pop the ‘weight of death’ that hangs above Wood’s head during a speech about his grandfather, or asking several spectators to move on stage as animals whilst he cradles another. Participants are gifted a vegetable reward for their efforts, hacked from a broccoli tree. A plant-based replacement for the energy they expel. These actions are measured by a slow drip of water from a red bladder that marks the duration of the show. These images remain, half remembered and fleeting, like moments from a walk.

-       Lewis Church

This diagnosis is based on a preview performance at Ovalhouse, London. I Am a Tree runs in Edinburgh at Assembly George Square from the 14-27th of August.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Jamie Wood – I Am a Tree

What is Walking Meditation?Wild Mind

Humans Need to Reconnect with NatureTree Hugger

Walking and Grief The Globe and Mail

Parental Burnout – NYMag 

Charlie Chaplin Eat His Shoes - From The Gold Rush (1925)

Mona Hatoum – Performance Still (1985/1995)

Bechdel Testing Life

Bechdel Testing Life is a series of plays inspired by the Bechdel Test, which asks whether a film, play or television series features a conversation between at least two women, about something other than a man. The question is one of representation. But it also makes me wonder whether women share ideas in a different way when they are together. 

Kate Fox, in her essay Girl Talk, tells us that there are many studies which demonstrate that the ways genders bond are different. As she writes, ‘male bonding tends to be more formal and organized’, and also that ‘every known human society has some form of men-only clubs or associations, special (often secret) male-bonding organizations or institutions from which women are excluded’. The private interactions between women are similarly important and should be foregrounded as well.

Caitlin Moran points out that women have fears totally outside the male experience. No man can really get why women hesitate before walking home in the dark. Girls are raped, robbed, assaulted, as well as diminished and demeaned for no reason other than that they have a vagina. That is terrifying. As Moran writes

We're scared. We don't want to mention it, because it's kind of a bummer, chat-wise, and we'd really like to talk about stuff that makes us happy, like look at our daughters — and we can't help but think, ‘which one of us? And when?’ We walk down the street at night with our keys clutched between our fingers, as a weapon. We move in packs — because it's safer. We talk to each other for hours on the phone — to share knowledge. But we don't want to go on about it to you, because that would be morbid.

Communication between the sexes is certainly possible, and understanding knows no gender. But empathy might be a different, and more complicated, matter. 

-       Lynn Ruth Miller

This diagnosis is based on the performance Bechdel Testing Life at The Bunker, London. Bechdel Theatre are at the Fringe highlighting shows which pass the Bechdel Test. Check in with their work here.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

The Bechdel Test - Dykes to Watch Out For

What Women Say to One Another - Huffington Post

Women in Conversation - Elite Daily

What Do Women Talk About Mostly? - Quora Topic

What Women Never Say to A Man - Caitlin Moran, Esquire

Girl Talk - Kate Fox

Hear Me Raw // LipSink Theatre

Hear Me Raw dissects the culture of ‘clean eating’ through a semi-fictionalised monologue based in the personal experience of its performer. Questioning the logic of whether raw smoothies and matcha provide any real solution to deeper emotional problems, Daniella Isaacs blends her real story of acute anxiety and distress with an imagined identity as a food blogger. As ‘Green Girl’, Isaacs evangelises about the need to remove dairy from your diet, replace caffeine and deny sugar, with all the zealotry of a convert. But the stability of this identity is disrupted by the interventions of concern from family, friends and clinical professionals. Isaacs’ clean eating obsession, watched over by the sinister figure of now-disgraced prophet Belle Gibson, grows into a recipe for distress, a diagnosis of Orthorexia Nervosa, and a familial rift.

Alongside its expose of the sometimes-worrying orthodoxy of clean eating adherents, and the modern obsession with demonstrable ‘wellness’, Hear Me Raw also reveals more general problems. Isaacs, graduating from drama school at the start of her story, embodies the anxieties of the modern twenty-something, particularly in the industries of theatre and performance. Her bullshit job typing up casting calls for ‘hot ex-girlfriends’ is a clear reference to the pressures of conforming to industry ideals, and to the unrealistic expectations for young performers that stifle the industry. Encouragingly, there seems to today be a greater awareness of the importance of diverse bodies in theatre, film and television, and a slowly building intolerance for retrograde casting practices. Here a young actor discusses the gulf between her expectation of fame and success and the realities of trying to get there, within the frame of a show that itself gestures towards that same frustrated expectation.

Isaacs suggests at the close that she had previously promised never to make an autobiographical show. Hear Me Raw is defiantly autobiographical, and is at its best when it abandons ‘acting’ in favour of personal testimony. Its central performance is not a dramatic role, but a sharing of a personal story, and a repudiation of the pressures that provoke the quarterlife crisis. 

- Lewis Church

This diagnosis is based on a preview performance at Hackney Showroom, London. Hear Me Raw runs throughout the Fringe at Underbelly George Square.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Hear Me Raw

Orthorexia Nervosa

“Clean eating” How good is it for you?BBC News

Belle Gibson Court CaseGuardian

The Quarterlife Crisis - Guardian

Lady Parts (Sexist Casting Calls)

Drama Graduates One Year OnThe Stage

Touch // DryWrite

I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a doormat.

- Rebecca West

In her new play Touch, Vicky Jones explores what the fruits of feminism are, and questions who has the real power in a relationship. Dee, a 33-year-old single woman, has left a failed relationship in Wales to establish herself and make a life in London. She tries to connect with herself and build meaningful connections through a variety of online dating sites, but each liaison widens the gap between her expectations and reality.

Dee confronts Miles, an older man who is part of a group involved with S&M, and argues that he is trying to make her weak. ‘It’s no fun for me if you are weak’ he responds, because that is the game. We pretend we are strong to be mastered by another. Although Dee talks as if she is in control of each relationship, she is actually a victim of what her partners want from her. Eddie, the first man we meet on stage, tells her that ‘there are woman out there who are doing better than you at being a woman. Who enjoy being a woman. And who have their fucking shit together’. But getting her shit together is the very reason Dee rented her tiny bedsit in London.

The big question becomes one of what being a woman is supposed to be in this liberal, forward-thinking twenty-first century. As Elf Lyons writes:

You can’t use multiple relationships to fill the void and give you the gratification that you should be able to give yourself. More love doesn’t mean better love. If you are dating multiple people in order to enhance your self-worth, you end up feeling like out-of-date hummus, feeling jealous anytime anyone chooses to spend time with anyone else, resulting in you treating your partners badly and without respect. 

And this is exactly what happens not just to Dee, but to far too many single thirty-something women, with their biological clock ticking, their hormones buzzing and constant reminders that they are not cohabiting, reproducing, or being what they thought they would be at this stage of their lives. 

Some of the confusion rests with the new generation of men who support the concepts of feminism and yet do not know what is expected of them as partners. As Mark White writes in Psychology Today 

It is difficult for men, especially those of us who appreciate and embrace the importance of being respectful and considerate toward women, to balance those attitudes with the animalistic, non-rational expressions of passion and desire that women want from us.

That is the dilemma faced by singles today. We have commercialized sex to the point where partners are touted as objects to shop for on sites like Tinder or in pornography for momentary excitement and passion, but when it comes to the long haul we are at a loss. No one knows how to react. Just where is the line between subservience and co-operation, dominance and abusive control? 

-       Lynn Ruth Miller

Touch is at the Soho Theatre, London until August 26th 2017. A new production of DryWrite's  Fleabag is at Underbelly, George Square during the Fringe from 21st-27th August.


Links relevant to this diagnosis:

Touch - Soho Theatre

Fleabag - Underbelly George Square

Why Men Find It So Hard to Understand What Women Want - Psychology Today

Women’s Attitudes Toward Sex - Huffington Post

Has Feminism Worked? - Telegraph

Elf Lyons - Polyamory: A New Way to Love