Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Boris Live at Five | Boris the Third | Godot is a Woman | Push | Fool Muun Komming! | Megalith
Two new Fringe shows show us Boris Johnson as a schoolboy and as a chat show host. Neither is flattering.
Boris Live at Five ***
Boris the Third ****
He comes on stage to cheers followed by boos, a Prime Minister turned chat show host, worryingly or wonderfully well caricatured, no doubt depending on how you the real-life version, in Jonathan Maitland’s Boris: Live at Five, one of many Boris Johnson shows at this year’s Fringe. Today’s audience seems simultaneously horrified and delighted by the chance to pose questions to the “pumped up” comic ghoul sitting in front of them – a self-satisfied toad reminiscent of the straight, white male comedian that you (used to?) get at the Festival, who says ‘non-PC’ things that ‘everyone’s (supposedly?) really thinking’ and is laughed along with because it’s just comedy or, these days, the government.
Backstage, Maitland’s Boris accidentally leaves his microphone on, obviously, and we get a not-exactly-surprising insight into an openly self-entitled and nastier character who has grim sex with his personal assistant and makes fun of any group of people that he isn’t part of – including us. And still the audience giggles. An hour-long insight into what we essentially already know, there’s something nevertheless haunting about seeing the comedy-horror of this melting clown lived out live on stage. “You have slumbered here while I did appear,” he says at the end, still quoting Shakespeare as we laugh, snort and snore into the future.
The Shakespearian theme continues in Oliver-award winner Adam Meggido’s funny and thought-provoking Boris the Third. Against a backdrop of early Thatcherism, a young Boris and his uber-privileged-but-not-dislikeable classmates put on a school production of Richard III that, as their Wandsworth-based drama teacher wryly observes, is better funded than a West End production of Cats. Meggido’s skilfully written script has the sharp structure of an on-stage/off-stage theatrical-turned-bedroom farce, filled with slapstick comedy slickly delivered by the ensemble cast, but also references to Brexit, 1980s pop culture and the unequal social structures that exist both in the play’s subtext and still in the world outside today.
Harry Kershaw’s is deliciously despicable as Meggido’s young Boris, a cross between a pompous and manipulative ‘World King’ of the school and a young Benny Hill, being endless chased by his cheated-on sloaney girlfriend Katie, her equally posh sister and an angry military man back from the Falklands who is about to bring down the house – or at least the set. Why, exactly, do we laugh at fun philandering men in a way in a way we rarely do with similarly inclined women? It’s an unanswered question. But when Boris’s teacher refuses to “debate” him – pointing out that they’re not starting from a level playing field – it’s a pertinent moment that questions the values of class-based opportunity and private schooling. “You can’t be the clown,” she says. “Clowns speak the truth. You’re the joke.” Or maybe the villain.
In the end, Katie is left standing humiliated on stage alongside her classmates, with both the production and her dreams of getting spotted by Doctor Who shattered. “We could have been good,” she says, if it wasn’t for “him”. Boris, pacing through the carnage in his crown, shrugs: “They knew what kind of person I was when they gave me the part.” However, his former friends – and perhaps us in the audience too – seem less sure of things now.
Boris Live at Five, Gilded Balloon at the Museum, until 28 August. Boris the Third, Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August
Godot is a Woman ****
In an extremely clever, amusing and provocative idea for a show, Silent Faces Theatre Company are waiting for Waiting for Godot – or, more specifically the Samuel Beckett estate – to get back to them about their request to perform Waiting for Godot. Infamously, Beckett, in his lifetime, refused to allow women to perform his absurdist play, which premiered in the 1950s, as he felt it wouldn’t be “accurate” for them to play the three male characters. It’s a policy that continues to be upheld by the estate today – one that has led to the three clown-like figures on stage before us, two female and one non-binary, sitting dejected, under a tree, a bit like Vladimir and Estragon, wondering what to do next.
And yet, as this continuation and, indeed, celebration of Godot’s boundary pushing absurdist classic demonstrates, dissecting the sillier side of theatre from within the sillier side of theatre is not only very funny, but also how vibrant new work – such as this show – can come about. I really hope that members of Beckett estate get to see it, as I honestly can’t think of anyone else who would be likely to enjoy it more.
Through endlessly absorbing and creatively spitting out the details of their struggles to put on a piece that isn’t Waiting for Godot but couldn’t really exist without it, this wry, appealingly frustrated and dogmatically determined troupe takes us from existential pondering to a delightfully disruptive musical number asking if Madonna can change attitudes, can’t rules around sex and gender that now feel out-of-date also be re-considered? If Beckett was alive today, would he have changed his mind? While they might not have the rights to speak Beckett’s exact words, nor the desire to follow his exact instructions, as the trio dance and dissect the tree, they, more than many other officially endorsed productions, effectively demonstrate how his spirit lives on.
Pleasance Dome, until 28 August
There’s a lot going on in solo performer Tamsin Hurtado Clarke’s intensely physical evocation of the shock of pregnancy and encroaching motherhood at the age of 38, not least the way the spoken text folds in on her movement to bring visceral life to the situation she’s relating. Her character’s shock at the news is tangible in the electric charge which seems to course through her body, or in the way she tests out the words “I’m pregnant” over and over again, perhaps dozens of times, with a different quickfire intonation every time.
At times she bursts into a spree of interpretive dance around her dance floor stage, and a couple of abrupt interruptions due to apparent morning sickness were so effective that an audience member suggested the performance be stopped. That Clarke performs in just a swimsuit (a wise choice, given the heat in this venue) with a fake baby bump may have added to their concern. Her character expresses her internal monologue and Clarke plays the role of their mother and grandmother too, illuminating intergenerational attitudes to childbirth, but her well-constructed show is most effective as a mood piece which simulates the full range of emotional impacts wrought by pregnancy.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 29 August
Fool Muun Komming! [BeBgWunderful/YEsyes/Hi5.4sure.TruLuv;Spank Spank:SOfun_Grate_Times] **
“You seem confused,” says the creature on stage – male, humanoid, white body stocking, short shorts, outwardly friendly disposition. Fair comment – and that’s just the abstruse show title. Gaulier graduate Sam Kruger plays an alien sent to Earth in a full body bin bag on the good ship “love rock” to…well, that would be spoiling the surprise. Kruger is lithe of limb, gawky of grace and an appealing presence, which he needs to sustain him through the more oblique moments of his comic mime and monologue. For all its strangeness, Fool Muun Komming! is at heart a loving-the-alien story with regulation David Bowie references.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 27 August
Megalith begins with a breakdown. Nothing works. Technical help is sought. After turning it all off and on again, smashing things is the only solution. Any more detail would be a spoiler for this mysterious, destructive, cathartic show about how the base materials for human communication are buried in the earth. A new performance by award-winning Bristol theatre company Mechanimal, Megalith is described as a play about copper mining but in practice is a deeply visual, almost wordless poem that holds its cards close to its chest.
Stunningly good sound design proves to be the backbone. Gut-churning feedback is played with virtuosity, and the play’s storming techno climax is genuinely thrilling. It becomes hypnotic and weirdly relaxing to watch great lumps of flint crash against each other, their chalky coating looking far too much like bone. And over time, Megalith’s building-site chic feels constructive rather than destructive, inviting many questions – about ecology, the ethics of mining, the lineage from neolithic tools to today’s digital assistants. But the play’s third act feels vague and unresolved, like a cave painting yet to be decoded: a more concrete resolution would help to drive home Megalith’s powerful ideas.
KATIE HAWTHORNEZoo Southside, until 28 August