FEN TO FRINGE - FIRST NIGHT REVIEWS
The pre-Edinburgh mini festival got off to a curate’s egg start at the Cambridge Junction – some good, some not so. First off was a remarkable multi-media one-woman show written and performed by Louise Orwin. Think Ken and Barbie in a savage porno movie. It was a creative tour de force but not always easy to watch – in fact that show came with a printed warning about the nature of the piece being sexual violence and disturbing fantasy. It certainly was that but in truth this wasn’t at all a monologue.
First a brave soul from the audience was called upon to play the part of ‘Hands’, a volunteer puppeteer who with Louise manipulated the Ken and Barbie dolls to perform all kinds of graphic sexual acts (caught in close up by a tiny camera and beamed up on the huge back wall). The other player in the piece was us, the audience. A kind of scrolling autocue of our thoughts (as imagined by the actor) created a one-sided dialogue between Orwin (dressed up as Barbie) and ourselves. We were not just bystanders but participants in what she kept calling ‘a fantasy space’. There was a suggestion that we stood for the perpetrators.
She was miked up with a distorted voice setting which made her sound like a duet of speeded up children and a powerful soundtrack of menacing music and heavy rock underscored the nightmare journey.
You may wonder what all this was about. To be honest the rhythm of Orwin’s performance was so badly shaken by technical glitches (many of them) that it was hard to follow the narrative thrust. But at root her work is about sexual violence against women, the role of fantasy and who controls the dream; it is also about women who have suffered abuse reclaiming their right to sexual imagination even if that means fantasies about rape.
Orwin draws also from recorded interviews with victims and these disembodied voices contributed to the stunning tapestry of sound and light. It was as I said a tough watch – it blazed with anger and defiance not least in a breathless dance towards the end of the show when Orwin smashes a bouquet of flowers into a cascade of petals. Simple but startling.
Given that the tech will run properly in Edinburgh this show is bound to make its mark, get people talking, arguing and of course, being mightily offended as well as somewhat reassured that those who suffer are not alone.
I wish the second show ‘Come Dine with Mr Shakespeare’ had been as entertaining as it hoped to be. Alas not. The basic premise – a mash up of Shakespeare characters melded to create a cookery competition was either too clever by half or not nearly clever enough. The characters of Count Orsino, Lady Macbeth, Petruchio et al (aka the contestants) delivered their lines as if in a sprint race and there was that classic error of treating the play as a private party, with the audience often excluded. Luckily there is time for some show doctoring and who knows, all maybe well that ends well. But it reminded me of a classic line from Noel Coward who had just been to see a shaky opening night starring a close friend of his. Not knowing what to say he told her, ‘Darling, good is not the word’.