In preparation for the next festival, Croydonites HQ decamped to Edinburgh this summer in search of brave new performance to challenge, provoke and entertain. We weren’t disappointed. Armed with a teenager and a pensioner, we sat through 25 shows from comedy to cabaret, drag to drama and performance to, well more performance. Summerhall was our venue of choice, a former veterinary college that showcases work from around the world each August.
We were very lucky to get a ticket for Sh!t Theatre, who visited Croydonites this March, with their new work Dollywould. Full of their trademark comical songs, they managed to coalesce a homage to Dolly Parton with the story of Dolly the sheep via a research institute for dead bodies in the USA. It was almost sold out before the run even started, and once it was nominated for a Total Theatre Award, tickets were like gold dust. There is nothing quite like them, so never pass up a chance to see one of their shows.
Another Summerhall gem and eventual winner of a Total Theatre Award was Rachel Mars’ Our Carnal Hearts. Delving into the deadly sin of envy, the audience were asked to confess their own secret jealousies, be they siblings with big houses, friends with new babies, or colleagues with better paid jobs… The work reached a finale when Mars was (reluctantly) beaten by two audience members with rubber chickens in a Guatemalan ritual (they use real chickens in Guatemala), that has its origins in absolving sibling rivalry. With a start time of 11am, this was a great way to start an Edinburgh Fringe day.
Of course we did leave Summerhall on occasion. We saw Jack Rooke at Underbelly, whose follow up piece to Good Grief - Happy Man - sees him taking on the issue of male suicide. He is brutally honest, beguiling and very funny. Even some pretty heavy swearing didn’t put off the pensioner who was thoroughly charmed. That’s the second time he’s made me cry, nay bawl.
Katy Baird didn’t shy away from difficult subjects either in Workshy. Documenting all the jobs she’s done in the last 25 years; ranging from flipping burgers, frying fish, selling drugs and entertaining men via a webcam. The audience were treated to chips half way through the show and then another surprise involving a wine glass which had some audience members open mouthed. I won’t ruin it for you.
Kin are a circus company, who have teamed up with Ben Duke, from Lost Dog for their latest work, that graced the Underbelly Circus Hub stage. Superb physical prowess combined with subtle clowning and a sinister subplot had the audience on their feet – this one was a hot favourite with the teenager.
Ellie Dubois’ No Show was another circus performance, this time in a smaller venue (back in Summerhall) that displayed equally impressive physical skills from a female company of five. Some carefully placed lines about what is and isn’t expected of women also gave us a genial insight in to the male dominated world of circus.
Kate O’Donnell who featured in the first Croydonites Festival, has a new work - You’ve Changed - produced by Trans-Creative, a company led by transgender artists. The show charts her transition from male to female at the turn of this century, when there was no template and very little support. Impeccable storytelling is blended with wit and humour and we never feel sorry for Kate, instead we admire her determination and celebrate what she's achieved.
There were so many amazing shows…Liz Aggiss, the self-titled grand dame of the bus pass generation proved she still has it in Slap and Tickle; and Shit Faced Shakespeare, where a member of the cast gets totally bladdered before the show, just so we can laugh at them, were so wrong and so funny. It hardly matters which play it was, but for the record this one was Romeo and Juliet. A Séance in a shipping container, in the pitch black, started off with some nervous laughter but turned into a terrifying rollercoaster ride which elicited screams from yours truly.
I should probably stop here, but I can’t not mention Selina Thompson, who took a cargo ship from Europe to Africa then across the Atlantic, to chart the terrifying journey of slaves in the 19th century. In Salt she examines what it means to be part of a diaspora, and describes the racism she’s suffered on her travels. Her Brummy lilt is warm and reassuring but we don’t escape the pain inflicted on millions over hundreds of years – and take away a piece of salt to remind us of it always. The work deservedly won her a number of accolades including awards from Total Theatre and The Stage.