Maggie Rose at the Edinburgh Fringe
7 July 2022
After a three-year absence, I’m back at the Edinburgh Fringe eager to see some new work, but feeling overwhelmed by the return this year of so many companies; in 2021 there were four hundred and forty in-person shows while this year they top three thousand. What I had definitely forgotten is the tangible energy on the part of performers facing their first Fringe audiences, and the buzz of expectation from audience members.
Amy Molloy in This is Paradise. Photo credit: Lottie Amor.
My first stop on day one is the Traverse Theatre which prefaced its 2022 programme with, “New Stories for a New Era”. Here I caught two one woman shows, This is Paradise and Bloody Elle, a gig musical.
Michael John O’Neill’s This is Paradise, directed by Katherine Nesbitt, is a deftly honed piece of theatrical storytelling. It is set in Northern Ireland on the eve of the Good Friday-Belfast agreement in April 1998. The play zigzags between the past and present of thirty-year-old Kate, who as a teenager in the 1980s, found herself in a fraught relationship with Diver, many years her senior.
Described by Kate as ‘a shady grafter who talked about the carnage of our city like it was a thing of beauty’, Diver, who was embroiled in the violence of the Troubles, held her spellbound. By contrast, in the present, Kate is in a new relationship with the dependable Brendy and expecting his child. The story takes a decidedly dramatic turn when she receives a phone call from Diver’s current teenage girlfriend to inform her that he is in meltdown. She decides to go and search for him, so reliving some of the most intense experiences of her adolescence.
From that point on, the audience are taken on a journey into the young woman’s still deeply scarred psyche, her highly charged poetic language allowing us to see and feel the painful situations she is describing. Quick unexpected shifts from comedy to tragedy hold our attention, and most notably, Amy Molloy, in the role of Kate, gives a detailed and technically adept rendition of this young woman’s dilemma, split, as she is, between her young self and the Kate of today. While the piece ends on an optimistic note – Kate gives birth to the baby, avoiding the threat of a miscarriage – one is left pondering if those civilians, like Kate, who aren’t on the front line of a war like the soldiers and the casualties of physical violence, ever really recover from the trauma they have been through. This play rightly focuses on their often overlooked trauma.
Lauryn Redding’s Bloody Elle – a gig musical, directed by Bryony Shanahan, is the story of a gay relationship between Elle and Eve. Onstage, three guitars and three mics, positioned in a grey brick open space (designed by Amanda Stoodley), turns out to be the back of a pub where a gig is going on. Redding is a gifted storyteller, singer and musician, who immediately creates a rapport with the audience, thanks to her songs and dry humour.
As the play unfolds, she seamlessly impersonates a variety of male and female characters of all ages by changing her accent, tone of voice and body language. This splitting technique is shown at its best in her portrayal of Elle and Eve’s love story. The former, working class, from the North of England and an aspiring songwriter and musician, the latter, an upper-class Londoner and medical student who meets Elle when she takes a holiday job at the Chips and Dips factory where Elle works.
Their love story is the source of much tenderness and laughter but at the same time Elle points to the difficulties of coming out, especially if, like her, you are from a working class, Yorkshire family. When Redding steps out of role at the end of the play, we listen to Eve’s recorded voice, explaining why she decided a decade earlier to end the relationship, even if she loved her.
There is also a political and social dimension to this love story – the huge divide in England between north and south, seen in the way of life and values of the two women, a theme that would have been worth developing further. My one reservation: the last half hour, which is slightly repetitive, could have been tightened. Notwithstanding, the play’s mix of monologue, live music and song reveals a hugely talented multifaceted artist.