Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Period Dramas | Let's Talk About Philip | Tom | Mohan: a Partition Story | The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me | Tickled: the Ken Dodd Story | Seen 00:25
Our latest Fringe round-up takes in everything from sober dramas about mental health to a comic rom through the history of menstruation
Period Dramas ***
“Welcome to my show, it’s all about your flow,” trills a woman in a big fancy frock. A cabaret show about periods through the periods – only at the Fringe, eh? But writer/performer Heather Milsted’s fair contention is that talking about menstruation should be a far more ubiquitous pursuit, given its personal relevance to (over) half the global population, that discussion of periods doesn’t have to be conducted in a dry (ahem), didactic fashion, that sharing experiences should mean there is no need to get the blues about the reds – and just why was menstrual blood such a no-no that adverts demonstrated sanitary towel absorbency with blue liquid up until the 2020s?
This assiduously researched romp through the centuries counters menstrual myths, eradicates euphemisms (new personal favourite – “the cranberry woman is coming” as used in Germany) and uncovers some progressive practises from ancient Egypt. In her quest for period enlightenment, Milsted invokes historical heroines and delivers her message through the medium of medieval music show, Elizabethan rap, Victorian vaudeville and a tampon tap dance. Within fifteen minutes, you will be shouting “vagina” and lobbing sanitary towels at the game Milsted who has had her own menstrual hell to pay.
Pleasance Courtyard, until 21 August
Let’s Talk About Philip ***
SUICIDE is the biggest killer of men aged 20-40. Family members are often left reeling, trying to understand what might lead a young man with no known mental health issues to take his own life. And with this comes burning questions: how could I not have known? Is there not something I could have done? This happens in a particular way for Helen Wood, whose brother Philip died by suicide in 1985 at the age of 27. Her parents put up a wall of silence around the event and only 30 years, after her mother’s death, did her elderly father finally agree to “talk about Philip”.
She and Philip had been close as children, but drifted apart as adults. Philip’s marriage was in trouble, but he had just come back from a spell of travelling in Asia and seemed full of ideas about the future. Ten days after his Welcome Home party, he was dead.
Let’s Talk About Philip is a two-hander about her search for answers. Wood plays herself and Gregor Hunt plays all the other parts, from her father and her therapist to Philip himself. The show, written by Wood and Hunt and directed by Derek Bond, plays with the form, Wood frequently critiquing Hunt on his performances.
But her search is hampered by the time that has elapsed, and her frustration, while understandable, is in danger of drowning out a wider range of emotions. As is often the case in these circumstances, there are few answers to find, which doesn’t make for a satisfying conclusion, for her or for the audience.
No such cloak of secrecy surrounds the death of actor Jonathan Salway’s son Tom, a songwriter and musician, in 2017, also at the age of 27. But his father is left with the same burning questions. Tom, which he has written and performs himself, moves backwards and forwards in time to illuminate key moments in Tom’s life, and pauses to reflect at the act of suicide itself: is it inherently selfish (“like the selfish bastard who jumps under the early morning train when you’re already late for work”) or even, in some cultures, honorable?
Salway, who has helped create Fringe hits The Selfish Gene The Musical and A Space Oddity, here explores his own grief, anger, confusion. In adulthood, Tom had kept his distance; now his father wonders about the son he feels he hardly knew. Wandering the streets of the seaside town where the family once lived, he clutches at possible explanations: did ‘nerves’ run in the family? Could it be a result of the steroids he took for asthma? The subtle addition of music by artists who died by suicide - including by Tom and his band - helps vary the tone and texture.
He realises, as Wood does, that even when there are some answers, they don’t tell the whole story. The only person with a full explanation is the person who is no longer here.
Let’s Talk About Philip, Pleasance Courtyard, until 28 August. Tom, Assembly Rooms, until 17 August
Mohan: A Partition Story *****
In Mohan: A Partition Story, Niall Moorjani brilliantly dissects the impact of Partition, both on a personal and societal level, by delicately balancing acerbic political commentary with the lived experiences of their eponymous grandfather. The former is vital in providing wider historical context; although three centuries of British rule in India requires abridging to accommodate the show’s brief runtime, the picture Moorjani paints is still a vivid one. We learn of how the British deliberately exacerbated existing religious tensions to rule more effectively, and the resulting bloodshed which destroyed entire communities. In addition to recounting the chaos and suffering caused by Partition, Moorjani also emphasises the sheer absurdity of the situation; in one darkly humorous scene, they imagine a job interview between the British Government and the under-qualified Cyril Radcliffe, who ended up drawing the border between India and Pakistan.
While this narrative helps us to understand the scale of the tragedies which unfolded as a result of the Empire’s arrogance, it is the memories of Moorjani’s grandfather which form the heart and soul of the show. Through the eyes of 11-year-old Mohan, Moorjani transforms the abstract into the personal; they continually remind us that their grandfather’s life is just one of millions which was shaped by Partition, and that most of these stories are no longer told. Whether describing how their family was forced to flee their ancestral farm, or recounting the terror of being a refugee in one’s own homeland, Moorjani’s storytelling genius encapsulates the carnage of a statewide shift on an individual scale.
Scottish Storytelling Centre, until 16 August
The MP, Aunty Mandy & Me ***
Dom, who lives with his mum in the village of Brinton, has three main aims: to save the station, which once hosted the fastest steam engine in the world, to get more likes on Instagram and to meet another gay man. When he goes along to challenge local MP Peter Edwards about the station, he finds, to his surprise, that the Honorable Member is “into musical theatre”.
While Edwards and his husband play the part of “wholesome middle-class bummers” for the media, in fact the husband is often absent and Edwards likes to take MDMA (Aunty Mandy) and wear a dog mask down at the local Leather & Fetish night. Being drawn into his world feels adult and exciting at first, until Dom starts to feel manipulated.
Written and performed by Rob Ward (Gypsy Queen) and directed by Clive Judd, this thought-provoking, likeable play is one of a number on the Fringe this year dealing with coercive relationships. While Ward tries to weave in too many threads - the pill-popping mother, the strange panic attacks - this is an engaging look at how longing makes us vulnerable and the importance of learning to defend our boundaries.
Pleasance Dome, until 21 August
THEATRETickled: The Ken Dodd Story ***The late Ken Dodd was a man so driven to entertain that, as the old joke goes, every time he opened the fridge door and the light went on, he did ten minutes. David Robinson's affectionate one-man show is a backstage look at Doddy, set a couple of years after his trial for tax evasion in 1989. Robinson doesn't look much like Dodd and aside from bearing his teeth to suggest an overbite, he doesn't really try - this is a tribute, not a tribute act. What he does share with Dodd is an easy rapport with the audience and the ability to really sell some quite terrible jokes - don't worry, there are good ones too. Robinson's perceptive script has been clearly widely researched and born of a lifelong love of its subject. Doddy bristles when a journalist refers to his "solo act" - correcting them that it's been a 40-year partnership with the audience. It's a solidly professional production by Michael Taylor and if the loose, relaxed structure of the piece does mean that it occasionally does drag a little, just count yourself lucky - if this was actually the real Ken Dodd the show would be four hours long.RORY FORDGreenside. @ Nicolson Square, until 20 August
Seen 00:25 ***
Raw, contemporary experience of anorexia inform this play by Barcelona-based company Modern Day Chronicles, who are making their Fringe debut this year. Written and performed by Candela May, who has past experience of eating disorders, it is episodic and not always easy to watch but is never less than authentic.
May takes us through a single day, demonstrating how every aspect of her condition is mediated, from contradictory media messages about body image to remastered clips from Hollywood movies, from the video diaries she makes herself for Instagram to an imagined chat-show interview. She is constantly observing herself through the lenses of others, even as they are observing her. At one point, she says: “I want to disappear and be seen at the same time.”
Her insider view lays out some of the complexities of the condition: how deceit can be turned into a game, how she enjoys showing the world the opposite of what she is really feeling. While a greater degree of coherence would make the play more powerful, it is nonetheless a brave look at a difficult subject.
C Arts, until 21 August