EDINBURGH FRINGE 1:
Stomp/Total Rethink/
Mother Teresa Of Calcutta's Grand Farewell Tour/
Patricks' Day/Memories Of Amnesia
Various venues, Edinburgh
August, 1991

Syncopated brush-sweeping and polyrhythmic matchbox-shaking are the order of the night in Stomp, the Yes/No People's answer to those old children's TV items about making music with everyday objects. (They also use Zippos get a grown-up to help you with this one.) The Black Mime Women's Troop show, Total Rethink is a fast, fizzing three-hander parodying media portrayals of women's roles; it never really goes anywhere, but has a tot of fun where it is.

The "Hey, let's do the show here!" ethic, of course, reaches its apotheosis in Edinburgh, with venues converted from church halls, night clubs, Masonic lodges and even a school examination hall (audience and performers alike sitting behind desks for a one-hour "paper"). Meanwhile, some people can't keep to their own venues the Archaos troupe burst en masse into Cynthia Payne's afternoon show and kidnapped her, demanding as the ransom for her release that at least two senior public figures come clean about their dealings with her. They then threatened the International Festival's Director Frank Dunlop with similar action for his alleged slighting remarks about the Fringe. Odd thing is, Archaos are in the International Festival this year ... still, that shouldn't stop a good stunt.

Using dishtowels as posters that's another good stunt; dressing in them an even better one. Mother Teresa Of Calcutta's Grand Farewell Tour (last seen playing alternate Thursdays above a pub in Farringdon) is, against all expectation, a real find: a drag act that offers a full persona rather than a grab-bag of camp mannerisms. This Irishly plummy Tupperware fiend suffers frenzied "giving attacks" and thinks "Like A Virgin" is an expression of devout communion giving Godhead, as it were. Two other products of Irish Catholicism, Sean Hughes and Owen O'Neill, have created in Patricks' Day a superior sitcom of ex-pat Paddy pub managers. Pure genius it isn't, but it is a real play as opposed to a stand-up routine delivered on a set. More worryingly, gags like "She's a got a face that looks as if she's just tasted whiskey for the first time" show sinister symptoms of incipient Bernard Manningry.

Much more reliable is the weirdness of Ken Campbell, whose adaptation of Lawrence Shainberg's Memories Of Amnesia has actor Stephen Oxley performing neurosurgery on a cabbage-heart called Lucinda, and making love to a melon on a broom-handle while explaining precisely how brain damage feels when you know precisely which bits are fish slice, malfunctioning. It's typical Campbell blending the comedy and discomfiture of a surreal dislocated observation. It's comforting that a Fringe which sports five Macbeths, as many Antigones and a rash of rancorous press conferences can still nurture some challenging (as opposed to easily digestible, wacky revue) mania.

Written for City Limits magazine.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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