By chance of the calendar I’ve seen 5 solo shows back to back and they all offered me different insights into the art of this truly difficult theatrical form, and the nature of life, loss, theatre and love of self, Here’s a very quick roundup – and I recommend to my MA Creative Producing cohort for 2017/18 and anyone else who is ever likely to commission, produce, write or star in a one person show to choose one or two of these (or others) to experience the craft.
I have to start with the world premiere of Jo Clifford’s Eve at the Traverse Theatre which is, for me, everything a solo show (and indeed a play) should be. It is deeply necessary theatre, exploring Jo’s own life journey as a trans artist growing up in the 1950s/60s. The piece included heartfelt tribute through the family album of life to their mother and to the young boy John who carried and cared for Jo’s life through until it was possible for Jo to emerge, butterfly like, to become a fire, a beacon and a champion in recent years. This is Jo’s 91st play and I had the joy and excitement of working on Losing Venice, their very first major hit, at the Traverse back in 1985. It felt so special to be in the theatre last night to witness this new work. Thank you John for surviving through school and early life. Thank you Jo for writing so eloquently – you have so honoured your early declaration that “All the things I’m going to write – they burn in me like fire” – Thank you for filling me with joy, with sadness, with floods of tears, and with a sense of hope.
The night before I had been at Mairi Campbell’s Pulse at the Storytelling Centre. I have seen this before, and have to declare an interest since Kath Burlinson co-devised and directed this work. It also offers a deeply personal journey of contained rage and restricted lifeforce, eventually breaking free to soar in music and dance – as the real deeply earthy rooted voice of Mairi and Scottish music comes through. Another beautifully paced and nuanced piece which , this time with few words, allows us to see into one individuals world speaking for the lives of many. The finding of true self through music.
Between these two works I saw three other very very different solo shows. First thing I saw the very first preview of the very first stage performance in the UK by a Singapore/London based theatre producer, Mohamad Shaifulbahri with his meditation on his life and family “Last of their generation”. Here Shai offers us so much to explore in his life, the stories of his family, the sense of travelling between homes and worlds “I’m going but I’m still here” and the traditions of his homeland and his new land from birth to death – from first breathe to the 7th step when the angels come. As the show settles I am sure he will use the reaction of his audience to help shape the pace of the piece, and it feels as though he will find more air and space to allow us time to breathe in some of the beautiful poetic images that he feeds us. There is just too much at the moment – but he is a natural storyteller and a warm welcoming explorer of life. I learnt so much. Thank you Shai and the Bhumi Collective.
From here it was a quick hop (after a session learning about Finnish history prior to reading a new commissioned play which is in my inbox from Julian Garner) to a masterclass with a difference. I have never come across the teachings of Gillian Beak – the theatre guru following in a long line of Staniskavski, Meyerhold, Meisner, and Grotowski, and it was fascinating to see her work channelled through exercises and an experiential theatre piece at Underbelly. She also offered us an insight into her own personal life, her endless touring to take her art to the rural communities of Britain, mystic moments on Virgin trains, and the pain she has experienced when torn between staying for a second curtain call and getting home for a family crisis. Actress Sarah Thom and producer Jimmy Jewell are following a long line of masterful character comediennes as they shape this new Queen of the Fringe for both the theatre/chakra cognoscenti and the wider general public who could become devotees of some of Beak’s top tips for life. Sarah is a wonderful storyteller, and I relished her ‘talking heads’ style slices of surreal life. It took me time to understand the role and world I was fulfilling during this audience with Ms Beak. Helping us to settle into the world you are creating will help us go there with you more fully I am sure as we find our chakra colours, and benefit from your creation.
The joy of the fringe is when you get a random email from a theatre company at exactly the right time inviting you to see some shows you know nothing about. Or when you get offered a flyer and find you have the perfect slot available to try something new. Siren Theatre from Sydney sent me an invite to their programme of shows, and I picked Noëlle Janaczewska’s “Good With Maps” beautifully performed by Jane Phegan directed by Kate Gaul with a soundscape by Nate Edmondson, design by Alice Morgan, lighting design by Louise Mason in a massive rig from C founder Hartley Kemp. I credit everyone because although the spotlight was on the solo actor, it was an ensemble of fine creative artists who made this work the complete heartfelt experience I love. The powerful potential of solo show writing is to take us to other worlds with nothing on stage. Last year Simon McBurney took me down the Amazon in Encounter. Yesterday Jane Phegan took me back there in the role of Noëlle – allowing me time and space to see the ever changing sky above and the wide open water below as she travelled through Brazil in the spirit of adventure her father would have been proud of – had he not been trapped, himself, in the endless roadmap detours of a decaying brain in a hospital bed. Switching by as little as a change of thought from this fine actor between the hospital, the Amazon, a supermarket aisle, the corner of Hertfordshire where she grew up, and the Blue Mountains west of Sydney, we lived in her worlds and relished her journeys. On the strength of this performance I hope to return to see another Siren show “Misterman” later in the festival. Thanks Kate for the email.
So five very different experiences in less than 24 hours – that is what makes the Fringe special. Dear Theatregoer – take risks for an hour, grab flyers and see something unexpected, take a moment to go to different worlds as the house lights fade to black and the spotlight comes up on a single performer on a bare stage. And then tell everyone you meet, if you’ve had a good (or challenging, or unexpected, or intriguing) time.
PS – now off for an 8 show day…do not expect review blogs on all of those – the heart is willing but the clock is ticking. Have a great day at the Fringe.