Mansplaining Masculinity (Cabaret Voltaire, 8 – 30 Aug : 12.05pm : 1hr)

“An engaging and thought provoking discussion… honest, revealing and accessible”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

“This isn’t a comedy” Dave tells us, wearing a purple dress and a fedora, without a hint of irony. It is however, an incredibly engaging and thought provoking discussion into the notion of masculinity that’s honest, revealing and accessible. My words, not his.

The show is framed around a survey carried out by Pickering, which asked 1,000 men to share their opinions and experiences about patriarchy and masculinity (anonymously). It also includes a raw account of his own sexuality and identity, and during the performance he attempts to piece the two together.

Although researched to an almost painstaking degree, and written and structured with a lot of love, Pickering doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, or that his show will somehow cure the world of its ills. Instead it’s an exploration of an idea, and insight into a side of the human state that receives little attention. It was passionately and engagingly delivered, and he even gives references for further reading on the topic – a first for me at a Fringe show.

During the performance Pickering certainly doesn’t shy away from the big issues – there’s talk of rape, emotional abuse, bullying and more. But it’s not spouted in a preachy or melodramatic way – it’s a simple recount of some very personal experiences from his own life, mixed with responses from the survey, and weaved together with some very intelligent discussion and line of questioning.

As a discursive show, it was very effective when Pickering referred to results from the survey, but it was almost tantalising that he did so only rarely, as I would have loved to have glimpsed further into the world of what men really think. He did at times refer to other well known (but uncited) general facts which did give the piece some added clout – how men commit more crimes, carry out more successful suicide attempts, and earn more money.

The anecdotal parts of this show, where Pickering shared memories from his traumatic home and school life, and his first sexual experiences were very moving, and made me question my own coming of age and identity within the “patriarchy”. His openness is absolutely commendable, and it really enriches the piece by bringing in personal as well intellectual engagement.

I feel the content of carries great social importance for people of all sexes and ages, and this is a very entertaining and enlightening way to spend an hour. I urge you to see this show.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Poetry Can F*ck Off (Summerhall, 14 – 22 Aug : 15.30 : 55 mins)

“The idea and thinking behind this piece is great”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Possibly the most ironic title of the Fringe this year, this show is, in essence, a very one-sided performance essay about exactly why poetry shouldn’t “f*ck off”. I use the word “essay” deliberately, as it is scripted very much like one, making statements about the power of poetry, giving quotes from poems in different times and cultures to back these up, and assessing the impact these poets and their readers have made in each instance.

While the idea is commendable and shows a lot of well thought-out research, as a performance it didn’t really work. The piece was delivered incredibly quickly and it was difficult to keep up with all the different examples that they all became lost in one another, while I spent the whole show waiting for a counter-argument to balance out the very liberal and pro-poetry point of view.

However, what I found most irritating about this performance was the very overused technique of repetition to emphasise a specific point. It seemed that almost every thirty seconds one actor would say a line, only to have the others repeat the last few words like some sort of robotic echo, or for three performers to simply repeat the line three times. It got very tired very quickly, while at some points it also got a bit shouty, contradicting the notion of this being an intelligent and mature piece.

With four performers on stage doing the “reading”, an additional musician was used to add rhythm and dynamic to the performance throughout. The playing was impressive, and kept the piece moving with variations in mood according to specific anecdotes. However, the music did little to alleviate the sense of non-stop pounding this show delivered, as there wasn’t enough variation in tempo or dynamic to break the monotony of delivery.

In saying all that, I admit I may have missed the point somewhere along the line, and this piece’s intentional styling may be a metaphor for a bigger message. Overall I think the idea and thinking behind this piece is great, but the form and delivery of it leave a lot to be desired – it seemed so wrapped up in making a statement that it neglected a lot of the basics of good performance.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

TES (Underbelly, George Square : 5 – 31 Aug : 13.15 : 1hr 15 mins)

“Fantastic… exactly what the Fringe is all about.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Tess of the D’urbervilles reimagined in modern times. With a male hero. Set on a Newcastle council estate. Performed by one person. Oh, and it’s performance poetry. What could possibly go wrong?

You’ve got to take your hat off to writer and performer Steve Larkin just for the idea. It sounds daft, but TES is actually a very compelling story, that interprets enough of the original to make it easy to follow, but without going overboard by trying to shoehorn in every last detail. It’s stylish, it’s quirky, and the issues covered are bang up to date for an audience in 2015.

The show follows the story of Joe Taggart, who, we find out, is a descendent of Lord Byron. As part of a special programme in his school (he’s 14 when the show starts), he gets assigned a new English teacher, the alluring Alice Prycer-Fox, who encourages him to write poetry. However, after a dramatic liaison with her, he finds himself in prison and years later is having to rebuild his life as “Terry” in Leeds. We see Terry’s rise in fortune as a performance poet, and how he develops a relationship with a girl he meets at a recruitment agency. Of course, as this is a Hardy adaptation there are more twists and turns, and an unfortunate ending, but it’s a gripping story and deftly delivered.

It’s written with a real sense of rhythm, and its poetic nature (though not overt) gives it a sense of being a fairytale and having a moral tale. Indeed, many cultural quips and comments on consumerist society are well-placed and go to show the level of intelligence and care with which this piece is constructed.

While the writing is powerful, one of the real strengths of this show is Larkin’s energy as a performer, and his ability to jump between characters and create moods and tension very quickly. He excels further in the sections where, as Terry, he performs his original performance poetry, even getting the audience involved to chant along some lines with him. Larkin is in his element in these sections and commands the stage and the audience’s attention.

My only criticism was that it seemed a little rough around the edges – there could have been starker contrasts between some of the characters, while I also would have liked a slightly more impactful climax. Overall though, a fantastic risk-taking offering, and to me this kind of show is exactly what the Fringe is all about.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED