Thursday, 7 April 2011

Simple Girl / Scarborough / Lucid Dreams For Higher Living - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

Simple Girl
Baby Belly 3
4 stars
Melanie Wilson doesn’t know about savage love. Not yet, anyway. In the meantime she can always pretend. Which is where this touching and disarmingly frank monologue comes in. All dressed up like some drop-dead femme fatale, she’s a psychological double agent and one-gal band. On the one hand she moves through some free-associative fantasy noir dreamt up from sixties spy flicks that move like an express train through still mysterious European cities, where all liaisons are dangerous and clues are everywhere. On the other, she’s smaller than she looks, the only documents in her possession is her cycling proficiency test and any borders she may have crossed have been by accident and left her lost.

Developed at Battersea Arts Centre, there’s a plummy kookiness to Wilson’s tale of everyday self-preservation, where the movies in her head are rapidly running out of script. Standing beneath make-believe lamplight with a vintage microphone and a mini keyboard full of samples to lean on, Wilson addresses the audience directly, only wanting to connect. It’s a witty, knowing and whip-smart turn, laced throughout with quiet need and gently captivating brilliance. Give this girl an audience and make her a star. Black and white, but of course.

Assembly Rooms
3 stars
Cheap seaside hotel rooms lend themselves perfectly to dirty weekend romances. But what if you’re about to celebrate your 16th birthday shacked up with your sexy gym teacher who’s about to get married to her 47 year-old boyfriend? Every school-boy’s favourite fantasy is explored in sticky, through-the-keyhole close-up in Fiona Evans’ bite-size two-hander. But as the age difference gradually begins to affect Daz and Lauren’s initially giggly, bedbound affair, Nintendos and other childish things must eventually give way to more grown-up stuff.

With the audience squeezed into a room not much larger than a broom-cupboard, James Baxter and Holly Atkins are left pretty exposed in Deborah Bruce’s close-up and personal production, which punctuates each scene with bitter-sweet pop songs of obsessive, love without ever going all Hollyoaks on us.

In looking at how history repeats itself, the fragile appeal of illicit trysts in a sensitive and honest fashion. If anything, Scarborough could be stretched out another twenty minutes, enabling the back-story of the behind-the-bike-sheds liaison to be fleshed out. For Daz and Lauren especially, the weekend would be longer if not always sweeter.

Lucid Dreams For Higher Living
Baby Belly 2
3 stars
The power of suggestion is an amazing thing. Before anyone uttered a word in Jack McNamara’s semi-solo playlet of mental despair, so persuasive were the questions asked by the big female face on the screen that forms the crux of the piece that members of the audience answered back as if this was some interactive call and response affair. This regardless of the young man onstage eating his breakfast, whose self-help DVD this is.

Then again, maybe we’re all in need of a little soothing. Anthony is. He’s trying to sort out his life at the crack of dawn while his estranged family sleep upstairs. Gingerly responding to the DVD’s coolly measured platitudes, he goes through the motions of the programme’s routine, flitting between hope and despair until he finally sees the light. Or does he? Because only by pushing himself to life-threatening extremes can the epiphany continue.

It’s a familiar tale of mental collapse, which over-eggs its multi-media promises for what is nevertheless a neat if unremarkable look at the stuff some people are willing to put their faith in. If the play’s title is better than what follows, the audience participation makes most sense of all.


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