Solo performances are popular at the Fringe, and there are some good ones this year. So far, the best production I’ve seen this year is one-woman show Torch, celebrating womenhood in all of its flaws and glory. To portray men from such a perspective is much harder what with society already granting men more privilege than women, but Camilla Whitehill’s powerful Mr Incredible does just that in order to highlight male entitlement.
Adam and Holly have recently split up, and Adam hates it. Men like him aren’t meant to be single. He has a good job, owns a flat in London and desperately wants marriage and children. Whilst he loves Holly’s youth and fighting spirit, he was glad when she started to mellow and come round to the idea of settling down. But she wouldn’t be tamed by his sedate nights in front of the telly watching trashy programmes. She wants to write about important issues and change the world for good.
Though Adam’s account of Holly betrays an obvious, fundamental incompatibility between the two, Adam is blind to it and his desire for Holly to conform, and it’s infuriating. As he details moments from their relationship and its unravelling, he blindly transfers all blame onto her. The script cleverly paints Adam as a generally good guy, making his privilege initially subtle, then growing until their relationship reaches a horrible end. His ingrained entitlement to Holly and the belief that she should conform to his ideal life is a good capture of male immovability around women’s goals and desires, and hopefully framed in a way that triggers male reflection.
Alistair Donegan fleshes out Adam with genuine grief for the loss of his relationship and fully believed justification of the character’s choices. Whitehill’s script paints Adam overly-simplistically at times, but Donegan makes the character three-dimensional.
As a solo performance, it is initially unclear who Adam is talking to, but this is revealed in the play’s final moments when the severity of their breakup is horrifyingly revealed.This moment is subtle and takes some processing, so perhaps a bit more obvious spelling out will make the intended message stronger. Overall, this is a strong, polished production with acute comment on male privilege over women’s bodies and choices.
Deal With the Dragon also looks at male entitlement, but likely not deliberately and with a hefty dose of absurd fantasy. Bren is a gay dragon who finds vulnerable gay men that need looking after and offers to help, but not without signing a contract. The Faustian pact between Bren and artist Hunter looks at artistic temperament and dependency in the arts with both comedy and gravitas, though Kevin Rolston’s piece is lacking in a concise storyline and clear message.
Rolston is an excellent performer who distinguishes between Hunter, another artist Gandy and Bren with physical skill that is delightful to watch. With no costume or props, it’s perfectly clear that Rolston is a dragon. The transformation is simple, but utterly delightful.
The script has a nice premise – What if you had a gay, German dragon to help you get through the unpleasantness of life – but it’s never made clear what the premise is trying to communicate. Are people eventually better off with Bren’s assistance? Worse? What does it say about life’s obstacles as a whole? Should men have someone at their disposal to do their dirty work? These questions go unanswered. Though Rolston’s ability as a performer is undeniable, Deal With the Dragon never makes a definitive statement.
Mr Incredible runs through 28th August, Deal With the Dragon runs through 29th August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.