Theatre review: Claire Dowie’s When I Fall… If I Fall, Summerhall, Edinburgh

Ever since the appearance of her first play Adult Child/Dead Child, more than 30 years ago, Claire Dowie has been something of a legend in the world of theatre.

Claire Dowies When I Fall If I Fall, Summerhall  (Venue 26)
Claire Dowies When I Fall If I Fall, Summerhall (Venue 26)

Claire Dowie’s When I Fall… If I Fall, Summerhall * * *

She challenges traditional sex roles and gender divides; and in this latest monologue - a fascinating piece of writing, dedicated to the memory of her mother - she takes on the persona of a woman called Gloria, who seems almost like an older version of her 62-year-old self.

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Struggling with all the memory loss, loneliness, and physical weakness of great old age, Gloria nonetheless appears in full can-can costume and wig, determined to revel in the memory of her days as as a showgirl, when she toured the world dancing the can-can, and learned from a drag queen how to treat the business of femininity and glamour - until then, always alien to her - as simply a costume, a performance, part of the job.

The monologue - backed by director-designer Colin Watkeys with hazy film images of Gloria attempting the can-can alongside her younger self - therefore emerges both as a story of a life in showbusiness, and a clear-eyed, un-self-pitying meditation on the experience of old age. And if the tiny space of Summerhall’s Red Lecture Theatre hardly flatters the show or its filmed backdrop, and Dowie herself - in her ridiculous wig - sometimes seems self-deprecatingly reluctant to give her own words their full weight, this is still a show worth seeing, on a vital theme, by a writer and performer of impressive power.

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Until 25 August

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