Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre reviews: Good Grief | Candy | I Was Naked, Smelling of Rain
From death comes a show brimming with life and joy, in the shape of Liverpool-based Ugly Bucket company’s poignant play Good Grief, a theatre highlight of the Fringe's final weekend alongside Reboot Theatre’s powerful and passionate Candy. Reviews by David Pollock and Sally Stott.
Good Grief ****
Underbelly (Venue 61)
The Liverpool-based Ugly Bucket company’s Good Grief was made at the insistence of the person it’s a tribute to. When their friend Tim Miles was given a terminal cancer diagnosis, he asked the company to create a light-hearted clowning performance for his memorial service. The resulting ten-minute piece has been expanded to a full hour for this show, which finds the correct blend of poignancy and comedy for the occasion.
Directed by Rachael Smart and Grace Gallagher, the show is almost entirely wordless, save for some recorded audio testimonies on the subjects of death and grief which act as a poignant framing sequence. We meet dancing zombie clowns and a feisty baby which doesn’t want to be born through the very realistic womb-sheet it’s lounging in, then see the many experiences of death felt by the person the baby grows up to be. These range from squashed bugs and run-over pets in childhood, to endless reports of war and death on the news.
When their own time comes, the person is ‘treated’ to an awkward final Christmas in hospital as their friends try unsuccessfully to conceal the fact it’s the height of a summer heatwave, then they choose assorted priests and rabbis to pay them a final visit, just in case. In the afterlife they return as the most ineffective bedsheet clown imaginable.
All of this is perfectly pitched to give a real sense of tragedy and loss in the small but profound moments recounted, yet there’s no point at which it stops being funny. Ugly Bucket play it like a Hanna Barbera cartoon, with lots of slapstick, mildly bad taste humour and some of the most perfect, Tom and Jerryish facial acting you’ll see on the Fringe. Thinking about death has inspired a show packed to brim with life and joy. David Pollock
Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 302)
This new monologue piece from Reboot Theatre and promising first-time playwright Tim Fraser digs into old supposed masculine certainties in a world where concepts of gender and sexuality are in flux. Perhaps it could have gone even further in unearthing its lead character Will, because the sense at show’s end is that there may still be unanswered questions about him, but that’s a small criticism amid such an overall very satisfying play.
Will sells car insurance, and there’s no suggestion he’s anything other than a very straight and conventional British male. His old school friend Billy is singing with a new band, and he invites Will along to see them play one night – where Will meets Candy, the drag character Billy has created for the stage. With her blonde hair, full red lips and seductive manner, Candy is a being of pure femininity, and Will falls for her like bricks.
The internal conflict for Will from this point on is deftly created, as he tries to work out his complete infatuation with Candy and his lack of sexual interest in Billy, and to marry up these two competing certainties in his mind. There hovers a sense that Will has his own emotional problems which push him towards such a potentially destructive route to finding love and affection, but what’s more revealing of his character is his attitude to older women in his family and workplace, whom he sees as passionless and unloving until he learns more of their personal life.
There are a lot of plates spinning in Fraser’s play, but Nico Pamparé directs Michael Waller to a powerful, passionate, questioning performance, its evocative results playing upon the audience’s mind long after the final bow has been taken. It’s a satisfying piece, and it uses the format of a micro-budget one-person Fringe show to great effect. David Pollock
I Was Naked, Smelling of Rain ***
ZOO Playground (Venue 186)
“Life is complex, sometimes too much so,” says Aidan Moesby in this poetic insight into one man’s mental health which – delivered as warmly as the day outside – he likens to the ever-changing moods of the weather. Covering these “turbulences” with a soothing Northern voice and humour reminiscent of Alan Bennett, he describes himself as a “late September” type. Intelligent and witty, the piece effectively conveys his inner struggles, at their worst when “trapped between cognitive impairment and the inhumanity of shops”, but also shares a bright and original perspective on how we are connected by our words and actions to the natural beauty of the environment we live in.
Sitting at a desk covered in plants and using a laptop to project images of the elements onto a large ethereal balloon besides him, he grades his levels of wellness, accessing the outlook for his “emotional weather”, while also painting a portrait the loneliness he sometimes feels beneath his lively, confident demeanour. It’s a piece that at times is more literary than theatrical, which could make more use of its imaginative set to visually compliment the imagery embedded in the evocative language – but one that effectively demonstrates that managing storms is possible with good clothing and tailor-made coping strategies. Sally Stott