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I went to Edinburgh! In August, this means more theatre than anyone could see in a liftime. [personal profile] kaberett found us a ridiculously central flat right opposite Teviot / George Square, and (of course) I've been trying to see anything that goes anywhere near "queer, feminist burlesque" in its intent or execution.

Most of these reviews are spoilery.

Canon Warriors

A great start! A three-hander, new writing all about the premier feminist puppeteers (only feminist puppeteers) in Thanet (yes, UKIP Thanet). This was sweet and funny and warm and loving, but with a sharp core of realism; at the end, when Fleur has to choose between living a peripatetic lifestyle from beach hut to beach hut with her very unwell and sometimes-abusive girlfriend, or moving in with a Nice Guy From The Council while she gets her life in order... it's very clear that neither choice is freeedom, because that's not on the cards for her as a young queer woman who had to drop out of her degree. There's lots in here about the choices we make when the deck is stacked against us, and how even though we know we can never win, it's worth stating our truths anyway. It's about finding that sweet spot between valuing and centring others in loving, supportive community, and valuing and centring ourselves - while never entirely becoming Aidan who says, "maybe once I'm more established in this job, more secure, I can raise some ethical concerns [about making poor queer women homeless in December]".

Callisto: A Queer Epic

Now this feels like the find of the fringe. Four queer stories spanning centuries - feeling completely separate through character and costume, yet completely connected through how the evolve sparking off each other, scene to scene taking place in different time periods or in several at once. Domestic and intimate, and utterly epic, all at once. I fell, particularly, for Tammy Frazer; a women in 1970s Nebraska whose husband had brought home a porn film for them to watch together. We meet her after this, on her way to California in search of her impossible dream - she's fallen in love with Daisy Lou. It's set up as a tragedy - the sweet Nebraska girl drawn into the seedy underworld and the desires of unsavoury men - but that's not what happens! She holds her own throughout, constantly connecting with the women she meets in her sex work career; and right when you think it's at its inevitable nadir - the explosively violent man has her at gunpoint - Tammy and Daisy kill their abuser and Thelma-and-Louise off into the sunset.

I also fell hard for the furthest-future of the four narratives. Before this I'd have said it's impossible to do good sci-fi on stage, impossible not to evoke at least a little of the b-movie... but as Cal the AI and Lorn (the last of the 'big brains') struggle to complete The Bliss in time - with their language playwright-evolved across hundreds of years to be strange and ambiguous and yet SO EVOCATIVE - I started to sense what was actually possible with stage sci-fi. I need more of this. Luckily I'm seeing Callisto again tomorrow.

Strong Female Character

Oh, I wanted to love this so much! A one-woman stand-up-show about action movies, with a strong feminist angle? Count me in! And when I got into the stuffy little attic room and saw that audience of ten, and heard the totally autobiographical tone of the show ("and when I was six my favourite action hero was..."), I realised how much this had in common with the Vaudevillainy concept that I'd cooked up with [personal profile] deathbyshinies. And as she took the audience from "don't we all love action movies? we're all in-group here!" to "but sometimes they don't teach us great things about women, do they? haha those action movie men, what cads" to "so here's how my sexual assault happened because of male entitlement directly learned from these films" to "but these films have also helped me to reclaim a powerful sense of self as I've come to terms with my identity as a survivor" I felt like I was seeing a masterclass in how to get any random action movie fan to come on a journey of feminist discovery.

So it was such such SUCH a shame that her show, with all its focus on the importance of education, choice, and bodily autonomy, managed to fall down so badly on actually embodying those ideals. Between the flippant references to her dad's job performing surgery on intersex infants (weirdly gender-essentialist and erasing of trans experience, even while she described her own childhood experience of "feeling like she must really be a boy", then briefly and insultingly underscored with "I'm not meaning to make light of this, it's a serious thing, so difficult for the parents") and the sudden unwarned-for shift into graphic accounts of her sexual assault, it felt like she hadn't actually learned the lessons she was trying to teach. Like her show was SO focussed on taking a middle-aged male action movie fan on a feminist journey, that she'd overlooked the possibility that her audience might actually include people who weren't middle-aged dyadic cis men who've never experienced sexual violence.

I left this so conflicted, thinking round and round how maybe it just wasn't possible for her to appropriately impact her target audience (the men whose entitlement she was trying to shatter), without retraumatising people who are more like her. It's shoved me RIGHT up in front of the question I was trying to avoid wrestling with towards the end days of Lashings - is it ACTUALLY possible to "comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable" with the same piece of art? To REALLY achieve both goals without sacrificing on one of them? This theme and thought will come up again and again in the reviews that follow...


This won't have disturbed anyone comfortable, but by the gods did it comfort the disturbed. Raw, honest, monologue-driven group account of gender and power. A little bit "A-level drama derived piece" in form and staging, but interspersed with charming "alternative student comedy" sketches so that the whole felt somehow more than the sum of its parts. Also, as I now believe that all plays should, it ended with a Kate Bush dance party to which the entire audience was invited. This play was like getting a hug from the really earnest but well-meaning bits of Tumblr.


In glorious contrast to Pussyfooting - which flitted around all sorts of issues around gender and power without ever really settling on a 'core message' (because how can you, with gender) - Cuncrete had one thing to say and said it. Loudly. For an hour. With drag kings and punk rock and a concrete mixer.

Like, imagine if The Dykeness had Arts Council funding. So many of the beats of one of our sets were in this show, but it was tight and focused beyond our wildest dreams.

In Cuncrete, Archibald Tactful and the Great White Males (a banker, a Lord, and a working-class-boy-done-good-who-proves-anyone-can-be-almost-as-good-as-the-rest-of-use-honestly) formed a band and sang about brutalist architecture, Thatcherism and giant concrete dicks. Maybe it was more performance art than a punk gig, but even so, the audience's titters of laughter, their polite and erudite attention, rubbed me wrong -- there should have been shouting and spitting and spilling of beer. I wanted this to be a punk gig - then the lack of narrative or structure wouldn't have mattered. If we could just all have been all-in, it could have been the most raw-throated cathartic night of my life. "YEAH! BRUTALIZZUMMMMM!" But as it was, it was a skilfully delivered hour of intellectual pleasure - "haha, yes I caught that JG Ballard reference too" - which just stopped short of actually letting me ROCK OUT.

(Yes, you read the subject line right - this is just the first two days of my week at the fringe. More reviews to follow...)
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