It’s fair to say that I’m not generally drawn to comedy or light subject matter. My favourite theatre is intense, serious and powerful, often with a heavy dose of suffering and/or death. I might need a break from all the despair after today, though. From mental health to forced prostitution to the government breaking up families, I’ve been put through the emotional wringer. These four productions are radically different in style and execution, catering to diverse audiences, but all are excellent offerings at this year’s fringe.
My Beautiful Black Dog at Udderbelly Cowgate is a rock musical/gig/spoken word/live art show created and performed by southeast Londoner Brigitte Aphrodite. It celebrates her depression, or as she calls it in attempt to accept it as part of who she is, Creshendorious. There is glitter and sequins everywhere, emphasizing her party girl highs and contrasting her lows. Aphrodite is honest, frank and a highly skilled wordsmith in her songs and spoken text. Her songs manage to be both dry and celebratory; they create a party-like atmosphere that has the audience dancing and laughing along. It is rough and ready, and intimate, like a secret basement gig by your favourite band. The projected images and song titles added an element of set, but weren’t particularly needed and sometimes hard to see on the theatre’s brick back wall. On stage with her is Quiet Boy, who provides backing vocals, guitar accompaniment and a character who tries to coax her out of the road case she sometimes hides in, but it is very much Aphrodite’s show.
The party vibe abruptly drops when Aphrodite reads a (glittery) letter that explains exactly how she feels when she is fighting her black dog. Her honesty is brutal, but necessary. My Beautiful Black Dog takes a (sequined) tyre iron to the stigma and silence surrounding mental health issues. In these moments, the shine is a shallow sticking plaster, trite and useless. Rather than ending on a somber note, she ends on a song – not a happy ending, but a hopeful one. Aphrodite knows her depression will return, but next time may it be with understanding and acceptance from those around her. This production is difficult to experience, particularly if mental health issues affect you. It forces open a dialogue about mental health issues and even though it a (sparkly) genre mash-up, it is a vital show that could be scaled up to a big show, complete with lights, confetti and the sparkle it deserves.
Blind Man’s Song in Pleasance Dome is Theatre Re’s non-verbal dance theatre offering this year. As blind man Alex Judd plays keyboard and electric violin, a masked Guillaume Pigé and Selma Roth personify the images and emotions in his head. There is love, violence, travel, and a host of other encounters between the characters. There are moments of narrative, but this piece is very much open to individual interpretation. A simple, black set paired with smoke, side lighting and timeless costumes evokes the silent film era or a painting coming to life. The soaring emotion in the blind man’s music could imply that these are his memories or dreams. The mood and music varied enough throughout to maintain audience attention, and the performers’ skills in dance and mime were evident. It’s a captivating watch, if a little long. Sadly, some of the audience members were less appreciative. An older couple noisily left part way through and an American voice a few rows back at one point proclaimed, “This is stupid.” Abhorrent behaviour.
The music is richly augmented by a recorded track, but deliberately repetitive and grating at times. I found my mind wandering occasionally, but this was due to a moment triggering my own imagination. The young boy sitting in front of me had some lovely responses to the piece that drew my eye away from the stage: at times he conducted the music, at others he swayed mirroring the performers on stage, or wiggling abstractly in a dance of his own. Blind Man’s Song certainly triggers strong reactions from its audience though strangely, not all positive. It is a meditative, evocative performance if an individual permits it to be, but perhaps a challenging offering to our short attention spans.
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