May I Have The Pleasure...? / The Oh Fuck Moment /
Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance And Box / I, Malvolio /
An Instinct For Kindness / The Adventures Of Wound Man And Shirley /
Thom Tuck Goes Straight To DVD
Various, Edinburgh
August, 2011
Over the last few years there has been an increasing vogue on the Edinburgh fringe to involve audience members intimately with the show being presented. This arguably reached a zenith this year with Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s piece Audience (which I have not seen, but which will shortly transfer to London), involving the haranguing of a female member of the audience; following complaints (which the company claim were the point of the work), a plant was deployed to serve as the victim. Ontroerend Goed’s work irks me because it seems like an artier version of the old audience-participation ploy in which the punter is forced to place a great deal of dignity at stake whereas the performers have no comparable risk. This is why I was so taken with Adrian Howells’ piece May I Have The Pleasure…? (Traverse @ The Point), which invites members of the audience to share a dance with Howells but in an entirely unthreatening way, as punctuation between highly personal revelations of his own life as measured by the several weddings in which he has served as best man. Howells never tries to dodge the implications to himself of his intimacy in performance.

Similarly, Hannah Jane Walker and Chris Thorpe in The Oh Fuck Moment (St George’s West) invite us to share moments of spectacular embarrassment or misjudgement, but do not coerce us, and involve us only as interludes in a series of thoughtful poems and meditations on how getting it wrong is not simply an integral part of our lives, but may be more our default mode than success. When Sandy Grierson unrolls an elaborate fantasy regarding his alleged great-grandfather, the early-20th-century boxer, poet, controversialist and shyster Arthur Cravan (who did in fact exist), he enlists various audience members into the action of Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance And Box (Assembly @ George Square); but once again, Grierson approaches us as equals in his great game of let’s-pretend. (I was flattered to be appointed Trotsky.) And Tim Crouch is, if anything, a little disappointed by audience decorum in his performances of I, Malvolio; as Shakespeare’s humiliated, priggish steward, he has a point as he dissects the improbable plot of Twelfth Night and repeatedly asks us regarding each of his indignities, “Is that the sort of thing you like?”… except that the piece was written for houses full of unruly teenagers who really are baying for his blood, unlike the sympathetic Traverse crowds.

Uncomplicated storytelling also makes a direct connection with listeners. In An Instinct For Kindness (Pleasance Dome), Chris Larner uses his more familiar comic skills to leaven and draw us into the poignant real-life tale of his trip to a Dignitas euthanasia clinic in Switzerland with his MS-suffering ex-wife. Chris Goode keeps us rapt through The Adventures Of Wound Man And Shirley (Pleasance Courtyard), a rite-of-passage tale in which a teenage boy (named Shirley) serves as sidekick to a grotesque superhot whose power is to hurt on others’ behalf. And Thom Tuck Goes Straight To DVD (Pleasance Dome) has rightly garnered a nomination in the Best Newcomer section of the Edinburgh Comedy Awards for its astute blend of alternating obsessions: one with watching every Disney movie that went straight to DVD without a cinematic release, the other a chronicle of the younger Tuck’s serial heartbreaks.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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