If the skill, intelligence and delight of my first show on this year's Edinburgh Fringe can be equalled on only two more occasions, 1997 will have been a good year. Sarah Woods' Grace (seen in London last autumn at the Old Red Lion), a "fast-moving comedy for one woman and two men in cupboards", is as consummate as ever, having only gained in speed under Theresa Heskins's direction in order to fit an abbreviated Edinburgh slot.
Victoria Worsley's protagonist, by turns comically and poignantly aware of her receding life goals and the ticking of her biological cuckoo-clock, scuttles in tiny circles around her room, conjuring up a variety of fantasy figures ranging from Jane Austen's Mr Darcy and a cross-dressing Mark Antony to a gibberish-spouting DIY expert and a couple of centaurs. As her supporting hunks pop in and out of the ingenious set, Worsley's Grace sings a kitsch nightclub number, gets sawn in half and stapled to a door. To call the piece a theatrical stream of consciousness might be unwarrantedly off-putting; I shall call it a joy, and leave it at that.
In another three-hander, Jump To Cow Heaven, Gill Adams builds a powerful, pervasive atmosphere of latent psychosis. Dealing with the prison escape and disappearance of Kray henchman Frankie "The Mad Axe Man" Mitchell, Adams suggests the menace of which the childishly innocent Frank (Josh Richards) is capable, as he clings to his delusions whilst holed up in a safe house with a minder and a call-girl. The constant fear that things might at any moment go bloodily wrong is finally resolved at Frank's own expense; director William Kerley ensures that every instant feels like the calm before the storm.
Bob Kingdom's Elsa Edgar also hinges upon a clash of personalities, in this case between American society columnist Elsa Maxwell and FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the twist being that Kingdom plays both roles, sometimes simultaneously. In truth, the play loses its footing a little when Kingdom attempts to bring the figures into conflict rather than giving one or other of them free rein, but his characterisation is remarkable, in particular that of Maxwell; as she confides in the audience about the merry-go-round of celebrity and her own place upon it, discreetly betraying the defensiveness at the core of her character, it is not difficult to forget that the jewelled and gowned figure before us is in fact a man.
It can be grimly reassuring to attend a show and find that one's prejudices about the performer are entirely borne out. The self-aggrandising, sophomore doggerel paraded in Vice And Verse – The Poetry Of Murray Lachlan Young is a case in point.
Written for the Financial Times.
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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