Assembly Checkpoint, Edinburgh – until 25 August 2019
For me, this is a show about space. So it seems ironic that I am cramming the writing of this review into the minute crack of time between running from one performance to another at Edinburgh Fringe. Or maybe it’s appropriate. Because if this is a show about space, it’s also about edges. Limits.
There’s cosmic fantasy, and there are the daily, normalised encounters with ingrained trauma that come from domestic violence. There’s taking centre stage creating a show, and there’s the persistent background that no one draws attention to. There’s warmth, there’s humour, and there’s the charismatic Nicole Burgio revealing her painful histories in this UK debut from Philadelphia-based Almanac.
It’s not the kind of subject matter I would normally pick when choosing a show to watch, but in the skilled hands of Burgio (credited as principle creator of the autobiographically inspired performance), the atmosphere is kept vibrant and amusing. She’s chatting to us. Telling us a funny story. Her expressive face is emphasised with not-quite-everyday make-up of over-red lips and pale cheeks and, coupled with her accomplished mime, she flirts on the edges of street-clown. And at the edge of dancer too; balances and stretches intersperse with spoken rhythms, an unselfconscious inner life of mental states that coexist behind the carefully chosen words.
Burgio is accompanied on stage by musician Mel Hsu and a couple of well-briefed audience volunteers who take on roles of family members. The direct engagement with the audience is an entertaining element of the proceedings; we are set at our ease from the start of the show, and the volunteers are well looked after on stage when their moment comes to shine.
Hsu does not speak, but plays guitar, cello, and sings in a low, throaty voice that is not a wail, not a moan, but close… mournfully evocative of long-held hurt. She’s dressed in red, matching the red drapes of tablecloth and aerial silks. Eventually, Burgio also transforms into a version of the circus ‘woman in a red dress’ trope, existing inescapably in a man’s world whilst living her own moment of beauty and grace.
The silks are used to dramatic effect in a dynamic portrait of Nicole’s mother, high on a cocktail of drink and sleeping tablets, thrashing into comically awkward positions, speech slurring, face sliding. Later, on the static trapeze, Nicole creates a lovely tension between the effortlessness of a space-walk and the simulated effortlessness of her aerial performance. Mel live-loops vocals and cello, the richness of sonic space amplifying the fantasy of freedom.
The final, joking line of the script doesn’t deliver the impact it deserves, but overall the show is fascinating, funny, and surprising. It held me attentive throughout.
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