The Sick of the Fringe tackles the medical matters

First run last year, The Sick of the Fringe (TSOTF) aims to highlight the diverse range of biomedical themes inspiring performers at the world's biggest arts festival.

A dangerously unstable farce about growing old
A dangerously unstable farce about growing old

In addition to a series of talks and workshops, TSOTF also offers “diagnoses” – responses which analyse the ideas present in a performance, rather than reflecting on aesthetic merit or entertainment value.

Here, two Scotsman critics try their hand at “diagnosing” Fringe shows, alongside two regular TSOTF contributors.


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    The Castle Builder

    The Lounge

    Summerhall (Venue 26)

    The Lounge is an 80-minute piece about what may or may not be the last day of the life of a 97-year-old woman called Marsha Hewitt, who finds herself transferred to a care home after a fall at the much-loved house where she has lived for many decades.

    Marsha is very frail, but still strong-minded and faced with the patronising kindliness of the staff, and what she sees as the idiocy and pettiness of the other residents, she dreams of escape. She calmly tips all the food and medication she is given into her capacious handbag, along with the remote control of the babbling lounge television; the handbag also contains her precious chequebook. And when the grandson of one of the other residents arrives for a visit, she soon works out that his combination of financial desperation and emotional aimlessness may offer her best chance of a quick return to her beloved home.

    Lucy McCormick

    Produced by China Plate and created by Inspector Sands, a company well known for their surreal and inventive shows about the absurdity of contemporary life, The Lounge draws on the expertise of a team of scientific advisors, and uses visual images, dream-like sequences and an element of pure fantasy to raise issues about the treatment of elderly people, the devastating loss of a sense of autonomy and status which can come with a move into care, the sheer distress caused by chronic mobility problems and the loss of control of bodily functions, and the way elderly people themselves may have internalised negative attitudes to their own age group.

    There is also a sharp look at the economics of elderly care, and at the fortunes now being made by some ruthless operators in this field.

    Until 27 August. Today 3:25pm.


    The Castle Builder

    The Castle Builder

    Summerhall (Venue 26)
Words: Mark Fisher

    If you’re ever in Lausanne, be sure to visit the Collection de L’Art Brut, a wonderful gallery dedicated to outsider art. You can spend hours marvelling at the output of self-taught creators, many living at the margins of society and all indifferent to public acclaim. Oblivious to the market, they are people who make art out of necessity.

    Why, then, do we regard some forms of creative expression as legitimate and others not? When definitions of mental health have long been slippery, what makes one imaginative leap a work of inspiration, and another the product of illness? And who gets to decide?

    Lucy McCormick

    These are questions raised by actor Vic Llewellyn and songwriter Kid Carpet in The Castle Builder, a celebration of the creative instinct. After taking us on a tour of some of the world’s great architectural follies, Llewellyn reminds us about Entartete Kunst. This 1937 Munich exhibition was mounted by the Nazis to demonise “degenerate” modern art. Joseph Goebbels wanted to show that modern artists were insane. The work of a surrealist, he argued, was indistinguishable from that of a psychiatric patient.

    If that’s true, suggests Llewellyn, it’s for the opposite reason: it is all equally imaginative, all equally capable of giving pleasure, all good. So too are the rococo constructions made out of bottles, tiles and rocks by happy eccentrics following, unknowingly, in the footsteps of “mad” King Ludwig II of Bavaria. For the mental health of all of us, creativity is essential.

    Until 28 August. Today 12:55pm.


    Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat

    Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61)

    Words: Hannah Maxwell

    McCormick and her Girl Squad boys run amok in this whistlestop tour of the New Testament: as an affirmation of agency over our queer/female bodies, and in defiance of an ecclesiastical canon of morality politics and re/oppression.

    Triple Threat drives McCormick’s indefatigable lack of inhibition right into our societal schemata of disgust, offence and body-squeamishness – in this country historically interwoven with Christian teaching and the influence of the Church. Her retelling of the story of Doubting Thomas – “reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side” (John 20:27) – culminates in anal digital penetration.

    We applaud the hilarity and the shock – can you believe she took it that far? – but accept as comic foil the actual scriptural basis, where Jesus invites Thomas to put his hands inside the still-gaping wounds from his crucifixion.

    For all the prudishness of their most ardent followers, religious texts are awash with bodily functions, pain, blood and sex. Their rituals provide ripe ground for reappropriation, by and for the bodies marginalised and policed by their archaic, literal interpretation. This reappropriation is especially urgent in the work of queer artists such as Ron Athey, whose performance offers abject resistance to the US government’s (lack of) response to the 80s/90s HIV epidemic. Deploying different devices and effects, Triple Threat makes a playground of the stand-off between religious conservatism and queer and women’s sexualities and bodies; as necessary as ever with religious institutions and individuals still lobbying “pro-life” but against the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP.

    Until 28 August. Today 8:10pm.


    Gusset Grippers

    Woodland Creatures (Venue 282)

    Words: Michael Regnier

    Some shows are best defined by their audience. This is certainly true of Gusset Grippers, which combines the previously disparate forms of stand-up comedy and incontinence physiotherapy.

    Incontinence affects one in three women and one in nine men, so it is likely that some, if not most, of the audience had first-hand experience. Laughter can lead to leakage if you have stress incontinence, so given the hilarity throughout, some of us were probably experiencing it.

    The audience effectively had an hour-long consultation with physiotherapist Elaine Miller. Not the first health professional to go into comedy, she is unusual in using her routine to do her job. Rather than invite audience questions, Miller grants us anonymity. No-one has to share their story – through experience with clients and her own incontinence following the birth of her third child, she knows what we want to ask, why we didn’t go to the doctor, and what mistakes we will make learning the most effective treatment: pelvic floor exercises.

    And with an anonymous group rather than an individual client, she is free to exploit every rude joke going about our most intimate body parts and functions. A few years ago, a show called Incontinental avoided “all the obvious and cheap jokes” around incontinence, according to a review; by contrast, Miller’s frank descriptions of pee, poo, sex, birth and pelvic anatomy elicited constant laughs of embarrassment and recognition. Her approach is, in many ways, vulgar – in terms of her language, yes, but her directness and practicality as well.

    Until 28 August. Tomorrow 6pm.