Edinburgh 2022

Boy

20/08/22

Summerhall (Main Hall), Edinburgh

1966: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. Twin babies Bruce and Brian Reimer are both diagnosed with phimosis. Circumcision is recommended. Their doctor chooses a new and unconventional method: electrocauterization. Bruce is up first.

And the procedure goes horribly, shockingly wrong. Bruce’s penis is damaged beyond repair.

Brian is spared. His phimosis is left to resolve itself naturally. Which it does.

The twins’ parents, Janet and Ron, are distraught. So when Harvard-educated psychologist John Money recommends gender reassignment, they are soon persuaded. ‘Brenda’ won’t remember being Bruce, Dr Money says; it’s a simple matter of surgery and hormones…

Writer/director Carly Wijs draws on this tragic true story to create a thoughtful drama, exploring the very topical subject of gender identity, illuminating the age-old nature/nurture debate. It’s sensitively done – socratic rather than didactic – and it’s impossible not to feel emotionally involved.

Actors Vanja Maria Godée and Jeroen van der Ven play Janet and Ron respectively, and also act as narrators, using a range of cuddly toys as stand-ins for the other characters. This technique is oddly affecting, highlighting the family’s innocence, while also suggesting that the very act of telling their story is ‘play therapy’ for the troubled pair. The set, by Stef Stessel, is wonderfully effective in its simplicity: a wheeled ‘wall’ draped with a light blue cloth, suggestive of a waterfall, spans almost the whole width of the stage, and there’s a stunning moment of revelation towards the end of the piece. Both Godée and van der Ven are immensely likeable performers; their gentleness and vulnerability ensure we’re on their side. Janet and Ron are victims of a man so caught up in his own theories that he’s stopped seeing the humanity of those he’s experimenting on.

Because Brenda is a very unhappy child. She doesn’t like the constrictions that come with being a girl; she doesn’t want to wear dresses or learn to sew; she wants to climb trees and fight and run with the boys. Is this because she is a boy, or would a cis-Brenda feel the same frustrations? We’ll never know. What we do know, unequivocally, is that it can’t be right for someone else to have made such a momentous decision for baby Bruce: to have compounded his initial mutilation with surgical castration, testosterone blockers and oestrogen – and to have concealed this fact from him. It’s his body; his choice. And the repercussions are devastating…

Despite its harrowing subject matter, Boy is a tender, poignant tale, told with real heart. This is experimental theatre-making at its best.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Chris Dugdale: Ethermind

11/08/22

Assembly Rooms (Drawing Room), George Street, Edinburgh

We’re already approaching the end of the first week of the Fringe. Our feet are just about walked off, we’re knackered, but we’re happy, because Fringe is back in full swing and we’ve seen some incredible new acts – plus a few familiar favourites. Chris Dugdale definitely falls into the latter category. We first caught his act way back in 2015 and he’s a been a fixture on our schedule ever since. It’s not that we’re fans of magic, per se, but there’s something about this magician that just clicks with us. The cheery patter, his likeable personality – and the fact that he never ever fails to astonish us.

His speciality is close-up magic. He even provides a video camera, trained on his hands, as he goes through an extended card routine with an astonished young lad picked from the crowd. ‘I want to show you a trick,’ says Chris. And we gasp out loud. How does he do that? Every time I think, ‘I’ll really concentrate this time and I’ll see how he gets that card into the box without even touching it. One year, he’ll let his guard down and I’ll catch him out.’

And every year, I’m just as baffled.

And then there’s the mind-reading tricks, the way he seems able to reach into your head and make you do stuff that you cannot rationally explain. Remember the old familiar trick your granddad did when he pulled a coin from your ear at Christmas parties? Mr D gives the routine a fresh new twist and puts you right back in that enchanted state of mind you had in childhood

But listen, I’m not going to bore on about this. If you see only one magician at the Fringe this year, there’s a logical choice. Now concentrate! I want you to picture something. Are you concentrating? I’m seeing a name in my mind… it’s appearing gradually in front of you, like something approaching through a dust storm. It’s taking shape… Can you see it now? Correct!

The name is CHRIS DUGDALE. Now go grab a ticket before they sell out.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

The Anniversary

08/08/22

Pleasance Dome

Jim (Daniel Tobias) and Barb (Clare Bartholomew) are eagerly preparing for their 50th wedding anniversary but they’re not always in control of things and some of the items in the finger buffet might better be avoided. Still, they stubbornly insist that every last detail must be just right for their guests. As the clock counts steadily down to party time, the problems become harder to deal with…

This handsomely mounted helping of slapstick from Australian company, Salvador Dinosaur, features no real dialogue, just gibberish and the occasional mention of each other’s names – but the soundtrack is far from silent. It’s essentially a piece about the indignities of ageing, replete with references to forgetfulness, dodgy bowels and the ill-advised over-application of both prescription drugs and prunes. It ought to be tragic but it’s somehow horribly funny.

There’s a delightfully constructed set, a central corridor using forced perspective to make the place seem bigger than it actually is, and cleverly constructed props, designed to fall apart at inappropriate moments. A (mostly) hidden technician takes care of the show’s other ‘performers’ – a cat, a rat and a cuddly rabbit. Tobias and Bartholomew throw themselves into the clowning with gusto. We’ve seen and been impressed by both performers at the Fringe before, Tobias in The Orchid and the Crow in 2015, and Bartholomew in The Long Pigs in 2019.

What begins as silly slapstick metamorphoses steadily into something darker. The weather deteriorates and soon there’s a full-blown thunderstorm and rising flood waters to contend with. There’s a charming scene where Jim improvises a song about his long suffering wife – some Elvis styled mumbling with the occasional ‘Barb’ thrown in for good measure – and Barb’s headlong tumble onto a table laden with food actually makes me gasp. While you can spot some of the gags coming a mile off – put a rabbit and a liquidiser into the same space and the result is both inevitable (and inedible) – The Anniversary nevertheless has me laughing pretty much from start to finish.

If the conclusion is undeniably OTT, it still reinforces the fact that a couple who have been together for fifty years are always going to stick it out to the bitter end, even if some of that sticking involves kitchen knives. Those who relish clowning should give this a go. But be warned, if Jim offers you a taste of his pâté, perhaps you’d best say you’ve already eaten.

4 stars

Philip Caveney