I am currently at the Edinburgh Fringe performing in Lashings of Ginger Beer Time’s production of Fanny Whittington. This is my first ever acting (deemed too rubbish for the school play in secondary school and I’m not sure being a tree in a primary school assembly counts) and I’m surprised by how much I’m enjoying it! My thesis is also making its acting debut as the script calls for a Really Big Book.
Today I saw two other acts. First up was Job Seekers Anonymous by Sh!t Theatre. Becca and Louise – or “Blouise” – are a confident duo of the “laugh because otherwise you’d cry” school of comedy. JSA was, by turns, funny, frustrated and despairing. Because being young and and un(der)employed and skint and trying really hard to navigate the baffling maze of employment, internships, benefits and what you want from life is pretty rubbish. The act did what it said on the tin but what made it enjoyable was Blouise’s energetic delivery of visual metaphors, statistics, and experiences.
I’m not totally sure it worked as a one hour act – there was a bit in the middle where I thought it lost some of its energy and focus – but on the whole, it did a good job of outlining the various interlocking factors that make being un(der)employed so dispiriting and difficult to break out of.
Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang was the surprise of the evening. I wasn’t sure what to expect – the description of “‘Carry On…’ meets Hilary Mantel” wasn’t too promising and I expected some kind of “ooo Matron” campery. However, I was blown away.
The stage was simply set with a minimum of props – a panel cut out in the shape of the supports for a stained glass window, fallen pillars and two boxes. Over the course of the play, the pillars are righted and candles placed upon them.
John Burrows and David Brett both play a range of characters based in a monastery at the time of the Reformation, from the lowly Brothers Adam and Stephan, the Abbott, other monks, the Abbott’s brother, his wife, her various maidservants, and Dr Layton, the dreaded representative of Thomas Cromwell, the Vicar General. I was struck by their physicality and how they signalled the different characters they were inhabiting using nothing but body language, gestures and posture. I also enjoyed the way they moved around the stage, using its space in an agile and imaginative way.
The play moves through farce, camp comedy, sung Latin chants and heartbreak. I was convulsing with laughter at the use of the Te Deum and by the end, felt I’d been on an emotional journey. No one-note comedy, this was a meditation on mistakes, regrets, devotion, loss, love, and the crumbling of everything familiar and dear to the characters.
It’s at a rather specialised nexus of Catholicism, gay stuff, and history so I’m not sure how far its appeal extends, but I certainly enjoyed it.
Tomorrow I hope to see the intriguingly named Ladyboner…
Also, in the midst of this, I sent off my thesis corrections. The end (the proper end) might just be in sight.
 I admit, part of the reason I saw these two plays was because they’re at the same venue we’re performing at and I could get in for free with my performer’s pass.