Friday, 28 August 2015

Edfest Day 23: Jesus, a Robot and an Internationally Ignored Transgender Rockstar

Oh that horrifying moment when you see your bus at your stop on the horizon and no matter how much running and arm flailing is done, you just know you're not going to catch it. Sinking heart moment... not half as much as getting to the stop and seeing this: N16 : 58 mins. Noooooo. It was already 12.30am. I was in for a long wait and my phone died a good few hours ago. 

Oh well, a good time to make progress on that big, hardback book I carry around with me for such occasions ... well, not a good time - it was 12.30am after all, and it meant squinting in what little light the street lights eminated. But one must make the best of a bad situation. 

All this for an average-at-best version of a great show, which overran 15 minutes longer than the already lengthy running time of 1hr50m. Before I go on, I think it's only fair for me to remember that this is an amateur company, not the broadway show I saw only 3 months ago. For that reason, maybe I should have avoided this. 

The show in question is "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and credit where it's due, I didn't know this was an amateur company. I've seen professional companies who seemed more amateur since I came to the fringe almost a month ago. 

That being said, I don't think Jake Benson, in the titular role of Hedwig, fully understood the character. He definitely got her nasty, bitter, unlikeable characteristics perfectly, but at the expense of her raw vulnerability that these traits mark. We should get glimpses of this as the show progresses, culminating in her breakdown at the end. Consequently, the end scenes feel a bit detatched from the rest of the show.

It also needs tightening up. A lot. Even the broadway show only runs at 90 minutes! This one ended up at 125 minutes. There's too much of Benson's attempts at, what he calls, "topical humour" of a stand up nature (much of which is no longer that topical). Too much picking on audience members. Of course, there should be some. Hedwig is grateful but also contemptuous of her audience, but generally it just went on too long. I say this as someone who'd drank a coffee and a lager before going in and desperately needed to pee from about 20 minutes in. 

Suddenly Felicity Ward's show came flooding back to me and I longed to be able to sneak out quickly signifying my intentions with the letter 'T' for toilet, as she requested. There was no escaping from this intimate venue without having to actually walk across the stage .... and that was something I really didn't want to have to do with Hedwig around. 

I also feel like Benson didn't understand Hedwig's relationship with Yitzak properly. Again, he understood the contempt but not the love. Hedwig does love Yitzak but is just incapable of showing it to the point of being abusive. Benson shows us the abuse, but never the affection. 

I guess I found Benson's one dimensional Hedwig a disappointment, because she is such a multi-layered interesting character. 

If I'd never seen a professional version of Hedwig, then I think I may have enjoyed this more. After seeing Darren Criss stripped down to his hotpants after an emotionally charged performance, all other Hedwigs were ultimately going to have a damned hard time winning me over. 

Moving on. 

I'm going to be brief about this next one, which I saw straight before Hedwig at the nearby venue "The Voodoo Rooms". I'm going to be brief because there wasn't much to it, it's basically just for having some laughs with a drink in your hand. The show was called "Christ on a Bike" (a phrase I enjoy) and does exactly what it says on the tin. It is literally Christ... on a bike. The premise of this show is that Christ actually had dyslexia and was "pro-fit", not a prophet, really into spin cycling and exercising generally. 

There are plenty of light laughs and merriment to be had, as well as some hand holding with strangers - who doesn't enjoy that? Maybe don't go if you're super religious, but the title "Christ on a Bike" should have put you off anyway... what are you even doing there?

At the end of the festival,  I'll be totaling up the number of shows I saw at each venue. I don't really need to do the math to know Pleasance is the winner.

The first show I saw after my volunteer shift was yet another Pleasance show. I'd been told that since I liked "Cell" so much, I'd like "Spillikin". They were right. This is another lovely, tender show. Though there are many similarities in theme and portrayal by a human-controlled, otherwise inanimate, object, there are plenty of differences. Spillikin uses a functioning, talking robot, and plenty of dialogue, whereas Cell uses a puppet and physical theatre. 

Both have the heartbreaking story of degenerative diseases at their core though. I forget the name of the husband's degenerative disease, as the wife (Sally) refers to the disease only through the affectionate name she gave him when the disease meant his shaking hands caused him to drop things - a 'spillikin'. 

Now, Sally is suffering with her own degenerative disease, Alzheimers, and struggles to remember that her husband has passed away. Before he did though, he built her a robot to care for her, help her remember, be patient with her, sing with her. All the things he would have done for her, had his illness not taken him away.

Can a show be heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time? I think this one proves it can. 

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