Edinburgh Fringe theatre reviews: Temporarily Yours | MEMBER | Teacher’s Pet | Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival | The Bad Daters | Breakup Addict | Dirty Words
Temporarily Yours ****
Underbelly Bristo Square (Venue 302) until 27 August
The ‘oldest profession’ has probably been a topic for debate for as long as it’s been in existence. Depending on who’s talking, it’s a victimless crime or pure exploitation. Of course, the only people we should really be listening to are sex workers themselves, and their experiences vary dramatically. Such is the starting point for Greta Zamparini’s powerful one-woman show.
If you go in feeling conflicted about this subject, after an hour in her company you’ll probably re-emerge feeling the same way. Because selling your body for sex is a complex issue. Zamparini strolls onto the stage in high heels, fishnet tights, a smart skirt and neat blouse. A sexual being very much in control of her own destiny, she addresses a man in the audience. The central conceit for this opening monologue is that Zamparini is being interviewed about her work for a newspaper article. But, she keeps saying, “You’ll never write this”, because her narrative is too empowered. She works short hours for large sums of money, in a safe environment, helping people for whom sexual acts are a form of therapy.
But if she wins us over at the start, by the end our head has been completely turned. Three more monologues follow, capturing the day-to-day life of a curbside prostitute charging a pittance for each act in a desperate bid to feed her children, an exotic dancer who gives added extras with a smile but the work seems rough and not without danger, and finally the most hard-hitting of all: a trafficked adolescent. This final monologue is based on Zamparini’s volunteer work with victims of sex trafficking, and her clothing, facial expressions, voice and broken spirit are a world away from the confident woman who greets us at the start. Brilliantly performed, thought-provoking and, at times, deeply moving. Kelly Apter
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) until 27 August
For three decades (spanning the 1970’s, 1980’s, and 1990’s), Sydney’s coastline became the epicentre of a gay hate-crime epidemic. Bodies were routinely discovered on rocky beaches - gay men having fallen to their deaths from the clifftops. All were ruled by the police as suicides. In MEMBER, Corey (played by Ben Noble) sits by the side of a hospital bed. His son has been targeted and beaten brutally.
Corey’s relationship with his son is complicated by the fact of his exposure to anti-gay rhetoric as a child, at a time when gay-bashing was a rite of passage among young men. As it turns out, the seeds sown by the aggressors of his youth have only grown with the years. He cannot accept his son’s sexuality - that is one thing. Violence buds beneath the surface, then blooms - that is another.
Noble is excellent as Corey, who plays each and every character in the piece. The script brims with detail - “grey eyes like dirty coins” “those scattered Tic Tacs she called teeth” - and each character is evoked brilliantly, to an extraordinary degree.
Unfortunately, the action moves too quickly, and while this works to simulate Corey’s experience - the rushing noise of his past as it reaches for the present - it means that much of this detail is lost. The addition of live music (a cello, played by Simone Seales) helps to convey the spirit of these specifics though, amplifying quieter narrative moments, and maximising tension when the pace runs at full-tilt.
MEMBER is transportive, devastating. It tackles a horrific phenomenon with elegance and sensitivity, and is to be highly recommended, especially to educators, schools and Higher Education Institutions, the better to teach and raise awareness about this vital piece of LGBTQ+ history. Josephine Balfour-Oatts
Teacher’s Pet ***
Pleasance (Venue 33) until 27 August
Jane’s the most mature student in class, she tells us. Not because she’s (almost) 18, but because she’s having a sordid love affair with her teacher, the moustached Mr McCormack. This ludicrous new musical comedy by Aidan Futterman walks an extremely fine line, with an extremely blasé attitude. Original songs and group choreo illustrate Jane’s diary-like monologues about the sweetness of first love… until Mr McCormack cuts it off, and she hatches a cunning, violent plan.
Futterman plays Jane as a delusional, wide-eyed teen, backed up by a five-piece ensemble of school friends in plaid skirts and knee socks. Produced by Futterman and Johnna Dias-Watson (aka Friends at the Poolyard), the same cast perform in demonic thriller Hot as Hell every other night. Teacher’s Pet doesn’t have the same rapid pace, but it handles its controversial material with outrageously enjoyable carelessness. A cartoonish coming-of-age story with a deadly serious streak, Jane flips through heartbreak, denial, anger, and retribution with comic speed and – as much as this production resists it – some genuine depth. This intentionally flippant story resolves in one big, final number that would never wash on Broadway, and who cares! This talented company makes a mess on purpose and it’s hard to look away. Katie Hawthorne
Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival ***
Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209) until 26 August
In Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival, Ibsen’s 1867 epic is reimagined with great energy and enthusiasm. The set has a lovely, kitschy quality. Pencil drawings (a tree, a forest, a cottage with a thatched, cross-hatched roof) are projected onto a screen using a live camera feed, creating an ever-changing backdrop.
Riffing on Grieg’s orchestral suite (incidental music written to accompany the verse drama in 1875), the company implements elements of jazz throughout, chiefly using sections of piano and trumpet, both composed and improvised. However, the temper of the music appears contrary to the themes of the piece, undermining moments of high tension and drama, as opposed to underscoring or amplifying them.
The cast demonstrates good comic timing, though. Notable examples include Peer’s escape from the ‘madhouse’ (here, he intervenes in the digital technology that frames the world of the play), as well as the theft of Peer’s ship by the sea. The addition of sock puppets - which work to evoke a host of folkloric characters - is also excellent.
While Peer Gynt: A Jazz Revival’s central conceit is unconvincing, its staging indicates incredible resourcefulness. Ultimately, this company succeeds in realising an idiosyncratic, imaginative, and fun-filled production. Josephine Balfour-Oatts
The Bad Daters ***
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53) until 26 August
Wendy’s got two rape alarms, a pepper spray and possibly a gun. Liam’s got a letter from his dead wife telling him to “make an effort”. Thanks to the lucky dip that is internet dating, somehow they’ve ended up going to a restaurant together. She might be cynical about love to a point where she’s planning her exit strategy, out loud, as soon as he’s arrived, but he seems to find her unfiltered criticism strangely attractive.
It’s a sparky little comic two-hander, written by Derek Murphy and warmly performed by Sarah Lafferty and Brian Gallagher, where witty banter of this all-Irish ensemble never gets too weighted down by heavier thoughts of where Wendy’s intimacy issues might come from or why Liam’s wife jumped in the river. “I’d have done well as a widow,” Wendy at one point says, “I’m a bitch.” But despite frequently coming across as rude, her ‘radical honesty’ also makes her great fun to watch. Refreshingly blunt, her observations on dating are sharp, but also offer insight into a woman who’s clearly got reasons for being the way she is, but has nevertheless found someone who seems to love the person behind the putdowns. Sally Stott
Breakup Addict ***
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) until 27 August
An ‘empowerment coach’ in real life, Paige Wilhide is also an engaging comic actor and writer, who morphs into a variety of funny characters in this, her one-woman show about sex and love addiction. With cartoon-like kookiness, she takes us on her however-many-step group therapy programme to stop obsessing over men she’s barely met – be it her fertility doctor or a man better left in the past.
Pertinent insights into Paige’s tendency to create narratives about lifelong love and attraction, despite little evidence that the feelings are mutual, lead to useful tips that will help anyone who feels like they might be tempted to head down the same rose-tinted, heart strewn path – which, if today’s audience is anything to go by, doesn’t seem to include many men. Paige’s attempts to cut off her ‘qualifiers’ (people she’s addicted to) are continually disrupted by the characters of Addiction (flirty and fun), Intuition (dorky and boring) and Grief (large, heavy and possibly Italian), before she decides that the only way forward is to cease contact with men altogether. “Not forever just for now, I choose me” she says. It’s a pragmatic but upbeat conclusion to an entertaining and insightful hour. Sally Stott
Dirty Words **
Pleasance Dome (Venue 23) until 28 August
Nobody could accuse Cheap Date of false advertising. The Cornwall-based arts company promises us naughty words with its title and most certainly delivers. Via entertaining filmed interviews with couples, individuals and groups of friends, we discover people’s favourite way to swear (spoiler: the ‘c’ word is triumphant).
Meanwhile, on stage, likeable duo Grace Murdoch and Josh Penrose share their thoughts about communication through a series of energetic anecdotes. Their reflections are not without humour but are either inextricably linked to them (so lack universality) or well-worn and obvious, giving us nothing new to take away. Kelly Apter