Being August it’s definitely festival season and one of the first out of the starting blocks is the Camden Fringe which began this week. Although the majority of the shows are still due to play live there are about a dozen which can be accessed remotely. As I’ve mentioned before I’m a sucker for a good title and so I headed for a double bill entitled Jam Tart and Lemon Kurd from a group calling itself Ragged Foils. They are an interesting pairing both centred on women in the second half of their lives who have made radical changes to their situations and emerged feeling more fulfilled and at peace with themselves.
Claire has trodden the traditional path of wife/motherhood largely denying her own needs and wants in putting others first and finding it impossible to say no to any request on her time. She precipitately leaves her own 54th birthday celebrations and checks into a Travelodge where she re-evaluates her situation and decides to leave her “OK life”.
Setting up on her own she finds herself becoming part of her local community and comes up with the novel fund raising idea of mud wrestling… but in strawberry jam. It is straight after this event that she finally finds the power to act and say no for the first time. Meanwhile, Cathy has suddenly found herself in her seventies but is part of a generation who refuse to accept age as a barrier to life – “if 80 is the new 40 then I’m in my early 30s”. She is a widow and decides to go on the Eurostar for a holiday in Calais. While there she encounters the infamous migrant camp The Jungle and one particular inhabitant, Kadeem, a Kurdish refugee who will change her world forever.
These are two accomplished monologues written by Rhiannon Owens and Nick Maynard which fit together neatly having complementary subject matter and a not dissimilar tone. Both speakers constantly deviate from the main story they are telling to give us incidents from their past but as these are germane to their current situations they help to provide a detailed backdrop to the decisions that are currently being made.
I don’t know whether the writers liaised with one another but if they didn’t they have made some fortunate choices which gives the double bill a strong sense of unity. For instance, some of the key moments are underpinned by the use of images of bird life. Claire’s sighting of a murmuration of pattern forming starlings prompts the insight that life can be just one big game of follow my leader while Cathy’s repeated avowal that pigeons and doves are not so very different represents her true feelings about the migrant crisis. She even wittily compares herself to a magpie as “a big old bird that gets misunderstood”.
Katy Maw as Claire and Mary Tillett as Cathy give believable and accomplished performances taking their cue from the confessional style most associated with Talking Heads. Natalie Winter wisely keeps directorial flourishes to a minimum settling for a one camera, one shot approach in tune with the notion that both are speaking to a computer screen. In any case these are compelling enough stories without recourse to distraction; the jump cuts between sections are a little disconcerting but reinforce the idea that the pair are making it up as they go along.
I haven’t really had time yet to read up about the rest of Camden Fringe’s online offerings what with Jermyn Street’s Footprints festival only just finished, Shedinburgh already started and Edinburgh just about to; there are obviously going to be a busy few weeks ahead. Hopefully the enforced lockdowns will not have adversely affected the quality of the online material; I can certainly say that this opening double bill for my festival season hit all the right notes. So, thank you Ragged Foils and in answer to Cathy’s question does anybody bother with lemon curd anymore, the answer is a resounding yes.