Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre, cabaret & variety reviews: Grandmother’s Closet | No Place Like Home | Delicious Fruit | Wilf

In our latest round-up of reviews, critic Ben Walters takes in four stellar shows with LGBTQ+ themes.

CABARET AND VARIETY

Grandmother’s Closet ****

Summerhall (Cairns Lecture Theatre) (Venue 26)

Michael Dylan in Wilf. PIC: Lottie Amor

Until 28 August

THEATRE

Advertisement

Hide Ad

No Place Like Home ****

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

Until 28 August

THEATRE

Delicious Fruit ****

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

Advertisement

Hide Ad

Until 28 August

THEATRE

Wilf *****

Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

Until 28 August

The years before the pandemic saw a marked increase in shows about LGBTQ+ subjects at the Fringe, across forms including, and often mingling, cabaret, drag, theatre, dance, music and more. This year, that trend seems even stronger and much of the work is impressive, including these titles engaged in different ways with questions of home and belonging, sex and self.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

In queer contexts, the closet is usually associated with hiding and shame but in Grandmother’s Closet, it’s a place of expression and love. The closet in question is found in a pebble-dash house in smalltown Wales and it belongs to Luke Hereford’s nan – a figure who, in this exuberant and heartwarming autobiographical show, takes on near-mythical status. In a mostly homophobic family, she was his greatest ally and her wardrobe, and its fabulous garments, a source of refuge, exploration and self-actualisation. Their relationship and Hereford’s journey to adulthood are related through covers of songs by Judy Garland, Madonna, Scissor Sisters and more, each marked by a costume change camper than the last.

Our welcome from Hereford, clad only in moustache and underwear, is informal but the show is tightly scripted and constructed, the energy consistently, insistently high. Telling story through costume, it builds ideas of glamour as armour, nourishment and joy. The charmingly economical production design helps: the closet is also a portal and a disco, while accompanist Bobby Harding’s keyboard merges with a dressing table. It sparkles with telling details and raw emotions, especially around a family relationship that becomes a beautiful friendship too.

The continued gay appeal of The Wizard of Oz is glanced at in Grandmother’s Closet and a running motif of No Place Like Home. Where one show finds unexpected allyship within the nuclear family, the other considers the potential for risk and even harm in a context many look to as a safer space, the gay bar. In this impressive one-hander, Alex Roberts plays both Connor, a teenager starting to explore his sexuality, and Rob, a somewhat jaded barman. Reluctantly charmed by Connor’s naïve excitement, Rob takes him under his wing but both find their hopes tempered by anxiety, insecurity and darker emotions.

Co-created by Roberts, Cameron Carver and Jac Cooper, this is an ambitious and accomplished production build around a bravura double performance – a triple performance, really, as Roberts delivers verse narration too. Precisely combining dialogue and dance moves that move the story forward, he’s supported by ingenious video projection work and an inventive club soundtrack. It’s a discomfiting piece, credibly probing in its psychological depiction of the two men, each differently hurt and differently defensive but facing the same societal oppression. Amid the cute looks and hands-in-the-air bangers, the toxic implications of such problems emerge in shocking ways.

Taking a more expansive view of LGBTQ+ identity and experience than the gay white men otherwise centred in these shows (and indeed this article), Plaster Cast Theatre’s Delicious Fruit is a marvellously multifaceted exploration of queer desire and sex. It’s based on trans artists Lizard Morris and Ayden Brouwers’s interviews with nearly 150 people and also combines story, music, video, dance and audio. Interviewees’ words play over and inspire Brouwers and Morris’s experimental choreography, variously evoking lust, anger, humour, tenderness and endurance as they thrust, float, caress and contort. There are songs too, though the most striking poetry is in the contributors’ judiciously arranged words.

We hear about the erotic potential of furniture and food, and the challenges and pleasures of navigating sex outside the norm. The various values of kink are explored: it can help work through trauma and shame, connect to cultural lineages of knowledge and pleasure, open up new kinds of vulnerability and care. For some disabled people, for instance, pain is a non-negotiable part of sex – a reality that inspires new configurations of feeling. We also learn about the precarious conditions of sex work, from the risk of violence to the inconveniences of head-to-toe lube play. Brouwers and Morris structure all this with elegance, passion and care, powerfully conveying the utopian potential of doing sex differently.

Advertisement

Hide Ad

A very unconventional kink, played tongue in cheek but in the service of real feelings, drives Wilf. Written by James Ley (Love Song to Lavender Menace) and directed by Gareth Nicholls, this bizarre, sensational and weirdly loveable joyride centres on Calvin (Michael Dylan), a young-ish gay man seesawing between an abusive on-off relationship and an almost vocational passion for cruising. When he finally passes his driving test, he’s delighted at his newfound mobility, which he expected, and a peculiar affection toward his new car, which he didn’t…

It would be hard to explain what transpires, and anyway spoil the fun of a show that delights in unexpected handbrake turns at all levels. Dylan’s brilliantly goofy, cocky and vulnerable Calvin is terrifically supported by Irene Allan and Neil John Gibson in all other roles. Ley’s script dances a tightrope between obscene absurdity and psychological acuity, marrying steering wheels and glitter cannons, Loch Lomond and Rose Royce along the way. Alongside the filth, there’s sincere concern for mental health and the power of narrative – through therapy or theatre or elsewhere – to change how we live. Beneath gags about absent-mindedly ordering “a hung top” at McDonald’s or receiving unsolicited career advice from a vision of the Virgin Mary, there’s shrewd engagement with sex addiction or maternal abandonment.

Wilf escalates and resolves in delirious, spectacular and actually quite sweet ways, attending to Calvin’s personal growth and wellbeing; the show’s eye-popping bodywork sits atop a chassis that is, in some ways, quite conventional. It’s worth a closing nod, then, at another excellent play by James Ley at this year’s Fringe, Ode to Joy (or How Gordon Got to Go to the Nasty Pig Party) (Summerhall to 28 August, reviewed previously). Ode to Joy is also uproarious, scandalising, inventive and warm. But here the liberatory potential of experimental gay sex points in more radical directions, reconfiguring desire, pleasure, commitment and support in ways harder to square with conventional expectations, “taking us somewhere new”. Ben Walters