Theatre Review: Contra, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Laura Murphy's subject in Contra is the familiar Fringe theme of patriarchy, and the constant supervision of the female body and female behaviour in a male-dominated society.

Contra is a defiant show with a strong anti-patriarchy message.

Theatre Review: Contra, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * *

THE PUBLICITY for Contra - playing at Summerhall for one week only - describes its creator and performer Laura Murphy as “a genre-defying queer performance-maker”; and there’s no doubt that in Contra, she explores a complex new form of solo theatre, combining monologue and high-class stand-up with some thrilling solo rope-work that takes her from the floor right to the high rafters of the old Demonstration Room at Summerhall.

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She performs naked in a gesture of rebellion and strength, rather than vulnerability; and begins with the story of Adam and Eve, using the coiled end of her rope to represent the serpent.

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Soon, though, the narrative begins to move on through memories of her life as a gay woman plagued by intrusive comments from men, and horrific recorded extracts from the act of a ferociously chauvinistic American male comedian to whose words Murphy mimes, in a disturbing parody of the oppressive attitudes she seeks to challenge. And always, the show - directed by the legendary Ursula Martinez - is illuminated by her exhilarating feats of strength and flexibility on the rope; in a performance which suggests that whatever challenges and oppression women now face, and have faced throughout history, at least some of Murphy’s generation have the strength and skill to fight for that equality of power and esteem that women are still so often denied, and not to back down.

Until 11 August