Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Everything That's Me Is Falling Apart | Opal Fruits | Charlie Russell Aims to Please | Are You Still Watching? | Never Let Go: An Unauthorized Retelling of James Cameron’s Titanic
A clutch of solo shows at the Fringe take in feel-good connections, funding frustrations and a camp reworking of a movie classic. Reviews by Sally Stott
After two years of being told to isolate, it’s surprising that any performer still has the appetite to stand alone on a stage at the Edinburgh Fringe and do a one-person show. Thankfully they do – and the fact that many have been trying to get here since 2019 makes it particularly special that they’ve finally made it.
The “everything” in Everything That’s Me Is Falling Apart (***), at Greenside @ Infirmary Street, today includes the lights, but the ever unflappable David Callaghan isn’t going to be stopped by the practicalities of performing to an audience who can’t see his face. “Let’s go!” he says, ushering us into a room in the quintessentially Fringe venue, where he launches into an uplifting collection of stories that celebrate unexpected moments of middle-class connection between charmingly eccentric characters, with the help of a revolving model set, live camera and computer-style animation overlay.
Accompanied by happy-but-sad music, it’s an ambitious, almost fully functioning mini-machine of a show that explores the memorable but mundane connections that make life and the wheels of the set go round – one that feels destined to end with either a Richard Curtis production credit or a full power cut. The stories of love and loss could be developed more to fully explore the relationship between everyday occurrences and life-changing encounters that the piece skilfully intertwines. However, it’s ultimately a piece in which one man’s battles to put on a show are as equally as heroic as the show itself.
Perseverance is a theme that continues with Holly Beasley-Garrigan in Opal Fruits (***) at the Pleasance. “It’s taken me ages to get this show here,” she says. “F***ing years.” It’s been both assisted and frustrated by Arts Council England, and Beasley-Garrigan laments public funding that values theatre – including her own – for its social agenda, while she simultaneously fulfils this criterion by putting on a warm and at times gritty piece about her working-class upbringing on a council estate. Balanced somewhere between wanting to do her show and break it, she moves between amusing and anarchic songs, spoken-word rants and interviews with family members, sweetly played by fresh fruit, to create an invigoratingly punk experience that contrasts with the saccharine but superficial set that the Arts Council budget has paid for. Quite what this show would be without an “inclusion” box to tick would be interesting to see – with the real excitement that would come from this perhaps being saved for a future show and financial model.
Pure populism is the alternative approach behind Charlie Russell Aims to Please (***) – also at the Pleasance – in which high-energy host Charlie asks us, the audience, what kind of show we want her to do and then frantically carries it out through a panicked stage smile. In trying to be all things to all people, there inevitably ends up being not enough time to do any of them in a meaningful way – which is both the problem and the point of this provocative, part-improvised piece, which rattles through fun and throwaway songs, sketches and scenes. Telling us to “put a sticker on” when we’re “pleased”, Charlie self-knowingly encourages us to reduce her show to the kind of derivative “yes or no” definitions that the whole of the Fringe, with its star ratings and one-line quotes (no doubt soon to include ones from this) often seems set up to feed. In the end, through an invigorating shift of tone to something more uncomfortable, Charlie finally takes control of her performance – which, of course, she’s really always in control of – ironically endorsed by a man in the front row from whom she still feels she might need approval.
Sonia Wilson isn’t trying to please anyone but herself in Are You Still Watching? (****). Over at another venue full of original Fringe spirit, Paradise in the Vaults, she puts on an inspirational oddity of a show about having the courage to do whatever you want to do – albeit, in her case today, to an audience of four. At ease in an ethereal white suit, she sings, dances and speaks, alone in the existential dark of an empty set. “I am the idea for the show,” she says. Or rather she’s all of the ideas, shifting between Brechtian-style commentary and witty musical numbers with a glittering piece of fabric that she dares to believe she can one day make into a jacket. Singing and dancing with the exuberance of a child putting on a variety show, she refuses to see herself as “a 43-year-old woman with a dead sock puppet on her arm”, the battle between self-doubt and the kind of inhuman confidence that it requires to practically “make dreams happen” is in constant conflict. “There will be no awards for me,” she says – but by the end, with the silver jacket now a reality, she stands in front of us, a star.
With eyelashes as voluminous as his moustache, Michael Kinnan’s one-man-many-character Never Let Go: An Unauthorized Retelling of James Cameron’s Titanic (****) at Assembly George Square Studios loses the elaborate set of the original film and abridges the text to amplify the camp. Distilled to its most heightened moments, it’s a piece that defies becoming a total farce, however much Kinnan pushes it, perhaps because, looming over the audience at a height in a corset, breeches and starched white shirt combo, he shares the original leads Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio’s commitment to the material. With the focus of an Oscar winner, he flits between volatile, about-to-be-unhappily-married Rose, relentlessly chipper Jack and a wasp’s nest of wealthy onlookers whose snobbish jibes are about to go down with the ship.
The epic cruise liner is recreated with some sheets and a bucket, the famous deck scene lived out at the top of a step ladder. Some of the bigger action sequences are skimmed over, but the oddly bombproof emotion of this remarkably resilient yet extremely silly love story isn’t lost. Unlike the bow, it just won’t break – and Kinnan’s excellent performance only adds to this. With the poise of a professional drag queen, he encapsulates the power and the preposterousness of both heroic characters and unstoppable artists standing up to large-scale events with the attitude that, however challenging, the show must go on.
Everything That’s Me Is Falling Apart, until 27 August
Opal Fruits, until 28 August
Charlie Russell Aims to Please, until 27 August
Are You Still Watching?, until 28 August
Never Let Go: An Unauthorized Retelling of James Cameron’s Titanic, until 29 August