I spent the weekend in Edinburgh. When Gareth goes to Edinburgh in Festival Season, he does things properly. So between Friday night and Sunday afternoon I managed to fit in ten shows, a visit to the National Gallery, and even sang a Piskie Eucharist on Sunday morning.
The first show I saw was also one of the best, Canadian stand-up Mae Martin’s Us, in which she talks about labels, and especially the erasure of bisexuality, the assumption that because a woman dates a woman, say, she must be a lesbian. It’s a very funny show, and I smiled and laughed a lot, but the abiding memory is of a feeling of tremendous good will in the room. When you watch Mae Martin perform, you fall in love with her. (I think I was most of the way there already, to be honest.) There were two or three times when she made points that felt really important to me, and some discussion towards the end of homophobic abuse and misgendering that would have been more painful if not for her reassuring presence, and I thought, perhaps another performer, a comedian with a more aggressive persona, would have made this into a rallying cry for change; but Mae Martin’s softer approach is effective in its own way. I loved it and will see it again when she brings it to London in a month’s time.
On Saturday I saw a couple of shows on transgender subjects: firstly, Jo Clifford’s one-woman show The Gospel According to Jesus, Queen of Heaven, a tender, wry monologue told by a transgender Jesus, culminating in communion; and secondly, Trans Scripts, a theatre piece curated by Paul Lucas in which six actors recite testimonies from trans women, American, British and Australian, about their lives and experiences. The more I think about it, the more exceptional Trans Scripts seems. It’s a smart move to include a wide range of people, as it brings home both the individuality of everyone’s experiences and the universality. I keep thinking of Rebecca Root’s Eden, born intersex and assigned male because her father wanted a boy, justifiably bitter at her treatment by the world, by medical professionals, but still clinging to the hope of a reconciliation with her mother. To single out Root is to overlook the other performers, Calpernia Addams, Catherine Fitzgerald, Jay Knowles, Bianca Leigh and Carolyn Michelle Smith, who are flawless. I don’t recall the last time I was so moved at the theatre. At the end I was one of many who stood to applaud. Visit the play’s website here.
Jo Clifford made the point that she was preaching to the choir, that the people who would choose to attend a performance like hers would be those already inclined to be receptive to her show. The same goes for Trans Scripts. It’s frustrating. A piece of theatre as vital and important as Trans Scripts should – must – be seen by an audience of people not yet engaged with the ideas it deals with. It ought to be filmed, or at least put on the radio. It would be an ideal thing to broadcast on Radio 3 or 4 at the weekend. It’s infuriating (if not surprising) that when Clifford’s show was first staged in Glasgow it attracted condemnation from churchmen who would naturally never have dreamed of attending a performance of it so that they could give an informed opinion. Anything to avoid challenging their fucking prejudices. I know people who call themselves Christians and yet would deny trans people their gender. If I had the power to do anything in the world, it would be to compel the uninformed, the unreceptive, the insensitive, to watch these two shows.
One joy of the Fringe is that there’s so much going on, and if you have a spare hour here or there you can always find something to do. That’s how I ended up going to Michael Burdett’s show Strange Face – Adventures With a Lost Nick Drake Recording, which I spotted a poster for while I was queuing for Mae Martin. I knew about the project already, as he gave this talk at my friend Victoria’s excellent bookshop a few months ago, but hadn’t seen it myself. Having discovered a hitherto unknown recording of Drake’s ‘Cello Song’, Burdett travelled around the country playing it to people and photographing their reactions. It’s a disarmingly moving hour, well worth seeking out.
Most of what I saw was comedy, though. Gein’s Family Giftshop, so polished and sharp, gifted physically and verbally, and clearly destined for greatness; hot young Alex Edelman, engaging and likeable; and Sheeps, whose new show on the Free Fringe, a series of deliberately blunt satirical sketches, feels somewhat ragged at present but will doubtless be refined into something as dazzling as their previous offerings.
The two most brilliant comedy shows I saw were Alex Horne’s Monsieur Butterfly and Kieran Hodgson’s Lance, both tours de force. Horne’s show was on last year but I couldn’t fit it in; thank goodness I made it second time around. He constructs a wacky Mouse Trap-style contraption on stage, enlisting the help of the audience to assist with e.g. making a flower arrangement, or shooting an arrow through a toilet seat suspended from the ceiling. At the end, if all goes to plan (and it generally doesn’t), he succeeds in catching the squirrel that escaped him six years ago, thereby laying several ghosts to rest. No less exhilarating is Hodgson’s show, in which he plays himself and various other characters (including, briefly and convincingly, Oprah Winfrey) in an exploration of the various ways in which Lance Armstrong’s achievements inspired him as a boy and whether later revelations discredit everything. His writing is pitch-perfect, his performance too. It should win every award it is eligible for. I wish I’d seen his solo show last year, which received similar plaudits.
Just before hopping on a train heading south, I had time to see Sam and Tom from TV! The exclamation mark feels important, as it’s a very high-energy show, with the ‘Sam and Tomfoolery’ threatening to escalate into blind, ugly violence. Which it does, sort of, though the violence is mainly psychological. The physical violence is better left undiscussed here, and is the catalyst for the show’s finest sequence. There was a depth to Tom’s mania that I hadn’t seen since the time I gave him carpet burns on his back by dragging him around the floor by his feet when he was a little boy. Recommended.