Week two is already at an end! We've had a quieter week this week (just you wait for next week - Ed), but we still enjoyed a lot of good shows: Subversive Sussex Walk, Tarot Nice To Meet You, and more.
Debbie Cannon, Green Knight
Let’s be honest: there’s always an element of worry about a one-person theatre show. Will they pull it off? Can they possibly maintain their rhythm, pace and energy to keep us entertained for the duration, or will they falter under the unrelenting attention, and fumble their way through it with the crowd grimly willing them on? The audience is in safe hands, however, with Debbie Cannon’s self-penned play Green Knight, part of the Sweet@The Poets Fringe programme. Cannon makes an engaging, playful and unflaggingly lively storyteller for her female-centred take on the 14th century Arthurian tale of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.
Cannon’s version gives a voice and a viewpoint to the enigmatic Lady who tempts Sir Gawain in the original. Like many plays written in response to another work, the experience is all the more rewarding with some knowledge of its source. But my companion (a stranger to medieval chivalric romance) has no trouble keeping up, and Cannon does her best to keep things accessible and fun, throwing herself into a series of accents and the creative use of props. Short, poignant sung interludes and percussion help to punctuate her retelling.
Unlike David Lowery’s recent film version The Green Knight, which foregrounds the otherworldly strangeness and dream logic of the Arthurian legend, Cannon’s Green Knight humanises the tale and brings warmth to its characters. If her closing speech – making the case for women’s worth and women’s experience in a society ruled by male chivalry – feels more heavy-handed than what has gone before, the show succeeds in breathing life into a character who deserves to tell her own story.
I would have been interested to see her further develop the relationship between our narrator and the magical ‘hag’ who helps shape her fortunes (and suggests that not all women in this world are equally disempowered).
I found myself alone on the Groundswell at half five on a Monday, and the lack of a crowd was definitely felt. The staff were pleased to see me, and very helpful, asking if I wanted to try it alone or with their help, and soon there were three of us on the large, plate-like installation, walking slow circles around each other.
The first thing that struck me was how analogue it was - from the advertising I had expected it to be digital, with maybe some sound or light effects reacting to my feet. However, once there's enough weight at play, the whole thing tips in your direction, sending small balls (like the ones you try to get through a maze on the lid of a bubble bottle) cascading towards you like a giant, flat rain stick. I can imagine that in its busier hours it would be fun to collaborate with - or frustrate - strangers, but interacting with the Groundswell with only the help of the staff felt strangely powerful and hypnotic.
Whether you go alone or with friends, I recommend clustering at one end to get the full force of the cascade, and get ready to feel your brain shake. A fun little free thing to pop into (or onto) on your way to the festival/fringe proper - but if you feel compelled to take a video, take care not to drop your phone down the side!
Big Cuck Little Cuck
Near the beginning of this chaotic but chuckle-filled comedy double-bill, Dan Powell asked how many people in the audience had come out on the basis of the title. I had to put my hand up: it's a funny bit of wordplay and as the mind behind the Seagull's pun headlines I have to reward that. We began with Powell laconically unwinding a series of silly stories punctuated with punchlines centering around his transition from personal trainer to comedian, and concluded with Kyle Bedder, whose vibes-based verbal stumbling rode the line between studied disjointedness and half-done material (though I can't lie: I love that stuff, it's like cookie dough to me). Thoroughly enjoyable if somewhat shambolic, maybe I should stop going to double-bills as I feel like I always say I'd Like To See Their Solo Shows, but I would definitely Like To See Their Solo Shows.
Blue Devil Productions, Blue Blood or How to Kill Your Way to the Top
If you’ve ever seen the vintage Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets – notable for having Alec Guinness play eight different characters – you’ll recognise some of the plot points of Blue Blood. Both are loosely based on the same novel, Israel Rank: The Autobiography of a Criminal by Roy Horniman, and follow the exploits of an obscure relation of a wealthy family who is prepared to beguile, cheat and murder his way into inheriting the ancestral dukedom.
However, this new adaptation from Blue Devil Productions (the team behind former Fringe favourite The Tragedy of Dorian Gray) brings a modern sensibility to its 1950s-set crime caper. Not least in that our sociopathic anti-hero, Gabriel Jones, happens to be a polysexual adventurer who is equally happy to seduce men or women on his journey up the social ranks.
It’s a role that gives lead actor Maximus Polling (previously seen as Dorian Gray) an awful lot to do. Constantly on stage, he must charm the ghastly Gascoyne family, along with the audience, while navigating numerous on-stage costume changes that signal his changing social status. To his credit, he largely carries these off with the right amount of debonair nonchalance, whether hastily donning hunting attire for Boxing Day in the country or stripping down to his underpants for a seduction scene, although I was slightly distracted by wondering if he’d come unstuck with his next tricky tie-knotting.
There’s plenty of darkness in this black comedy, although the script could do with more real belly laughs for the (mostly strong) cast to get their teeth into; and perhaps a few trims to give them more time to let their hair down and have fun with it.
Subversive Sussex Walk
If you want to learn more about the history of Brighton from the perspective of unions and labour, then you couldn't do better than the Subversive Sussex Walk. It was one of those expertly-run walks that truly brought the history of Brighton to life: we learnt about the origin of Brighton Trade Union Council (TUC), the attempt on Margaret Thatcher's life by the IRA at The Grand, the destruction of former slums Durham and Petty France in the most devilish way, the history of women's suffrage (there was a women's bank where Wahaca now is!), and so much more.
Our guide from Brighton Radical History was wonderful, and I really could not recommend the walk more. It is quite a long walk though (about two hours, mostly flat with the only hill being West Street), just to prepare you (tickets)!
Steve Vertigo: Murmuration
While Vertigo was a thoroughly likeable and energetic stage presence—there was certainly a lot of flapping around—this show was, as a whole, fairly bewildering. An eccentric, lightly-comic shaggy-dog story about joining the murmuration of starlings over the pier, it took so many odd twists and turns over its running time and and had so many bizarre asides that I wondered whether I was missing something. It was like listening to someone explain a dream of theirs to you with jokes and props. One woman in the front appeared to be having the time of her life, though, so maybe it was just me.
The Eagle and The Seagull
This comic drama tackles a topic that is not often covered in theatre: football. And even more specifically, “the strangest rivalry in football” (as one character puts it) – the bitter, long-running feud between Brighton & Hove Albion and Crystal Palace. Two England fans, Terry and Julius, are thrown into a Spanish prison cell together after violence breaks out on route to a match. Sure enough, they turn out to be on opposite sides (ends?) of the great A23 divide.
The actors do their best to avoid their characters falling into stereotype, which isn’t always easy. Terry, who soonreveals himself to be a lifelong Eagle, is all Sarf Londonladdishness, sunburn and casual homophobia. We learn that Julius, a relative latecomer to football and Brighton fandom, comes from a far more privileged background,and is prone to quoting chunks of Shakespeare.
Oliver Joseph Brooke is convincing as the apparently oafish – yet perhaps with hidden depths – Terry. Lawrence Perry has a trickier job on his hands to breathe life into the somewhat stiffer Julius (see the aforementioned Shakespeare). It’s largely a two hander, although their conversation is punctuated by Mark Steere’s Spanish police officer, sometimes providing light relief, sometimes philosophising.
Given the reasons for the two fans’ incarceration, we sense that a big reveal may be in the offing. Along the way, the play not only probes that feud, but also tackles darker toxic-masculinity topics including loneliness, trauma and organised violence. The ending, when it comes, makes use of a neat callback to an earlier moment of physical comedy. It’s hard to imagine thischamber piece finding a mass audience, due to its rather niche premise. Rest assured, you don’t really need to be a Seagull, an Eagle or even a football fan to follow the story – but it’s more fun if you are. So, come on you Seagulls (tickets)!
Tarot, Nice To Meet You
Walking into the Caroline to see Carly Smallman and Sarah Iles' show was like reuniting with old friends (maybe because you wouldn't stop talking to them last year - Ed). The show was just as funny as it was when we saw it in 2022: the comedians (Sarah also works for a psychic hotline!) gave us a quick explainer on tarot, said they wouldn't answer any medical or legal questions, before inviting fellow comedian Nick Elleray to the stage. The self-described 'gifted ameteur' at love talked about his difficulties dating when he doesn't drink, and the true problem of the modern day: are you depressed, or just sleeping on a really good mattress?
The pair then gave Nick a three-card reading about his love life (and looked relieved when the final card was a good one), before moving to the audience. Anyone could ask for a specific question or a general reading, and some really juicy questions came up: should a couple move to London, should someone move careers, and how can you make a lot of money with minimal effort? My question drew the five of swords, something I'm still ruminating on.
Their poker faces remain terrible (I'm not sure saying 'fuck' when you see a card is good), but if anything, that made it all so much more fun. They knew their stuff, tried to find a positive spin on everything (there is no way to make a lot of money with minimal effort, sorry), and I can't wait to take more friends to see their next shows (tickets).