Die or Run, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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by Laura Kressly

It’s the 1980s. Big hair, shoulder pads and synth-pop provide a backdrop for Margaret Thatcher’s advocacy of the individual instead of a collective society. This results in a country that loves to go out dancing, but when crisis hits, people find themselves isolated and overwhelmed. Denise’s journey from cheerful disco queen to depressed carer unfolds through a fragmented monologue of nostalgia, song lyrics and sound-bites. 

The close, in-the-round staging gives what is often a listicle-style script of 80s characteristics – legwarmers! partylines! flock of seagulls! – more personality and intimacy. Even though Denise’s character takes her time to emerge, her direct address is fun and engaging. For those of us who remember the 80s, we giggle with nostalgia and how ridiculous we used to look. 

There’s not much of a story, instead we are treated to a verbal landscape accompanied by 80s electronica backing tracks. What story that is present provokes a reflection on how Thatcher influenced today’s society – all of her rhetoric about how we need to look after ourselves first closely resembles what is often viewed as selfishness in millennials, who would have been subject to parenting influenced by her policy.

Hannah Ringham as Denise cuts a caricature who is simultaneously hilarious and sad. Low-key dancing and eternal dedication to her favourite tunes is joyfully carefree, but later attempts to regain that positivity and ease are wrought with frustration. The shift from one state to the other is sometimes so slow its imperceptible, at other moments they are immediate and explosive. She is unquestionably a victim of Thatcher’s rule.

Despite its simple form, it’s an engaging piece. It is initially puzzling, and there’s not much of a story to hold it together. Rather, its retro aesthetic and strong sense of longing for the past keep it going, and it’s just the right length for these choices. Any longer and it would feel drawn out and unsupported, much shorter and Denise’s journey would be rushed. Though not a mind-blowing experience, instead it is one of quiet, lingering reflection.

Die or Run runs through 24 August in Edinburgh.

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