Theatre review: What If I Told You

Pauline Mayers delivers a powerful show that deserves to be seen on many different levels.
Pauline Mayers delivers a powerful show that deserves to be seen on many different levels.
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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: It’s hard to imagine a Fringe hour more warm and supportive than the one we spend with Pauline Mayers.

Army @ The Fringe (Venue 210)

****

Which, given that we perform her show with her, is important.

Mayers, a black woman born in London of Barbadian heritage and now based in Leeds, hit her mid-40s and started questioning where she was headed. Happily, the answer she found was here, the Edinburgh Fringe, with a powerful show that deserves to be seen on so many levels.

First and foremost, What If I Told You is a gift for all who attend it. A brief moment to share with our fellow humans, in a safe, non-threatening environment where shaking hands, and even hugging, a complete stranger feels not just OK but actively, purposefully right.

Secondly, Mayers offers us a lesson in early gynaecological research. Dr James Sims, we learn, was quite the pioneer, making discoveries that still benefit women today. There’s even a statue in New York dedicated to him. What the plaque next to it fails to say, is that he repeatedly experimented on black women, without anaesthetic, believing their pain tolerance to be greater than that of white women.

Mayers cleverly intertwines the tale of Sims with her own life story, subtly leaving us to draw any perceived parallels. She shares her teenage desire to enter the Rambert School of Dance; her subsequent career as a dancer; and a visit to her Caribbean family when she was taking stock of her life.

It’s all gently fascinating, with brief moments of choreography punctuating the text lest we forget we have a trained dancer in our midst. A moving, troubling, thought-provoking and unforgettable experience.

Until 26 August. Today 5pm.