Shocked – 2016 Fringe

In the front row of an intimate Fringe venue on Saturday night audience a young woman kept turning around to look at me,  and others  behind her,  with her eyes open wide, her expression clearly asking – what is going on here?  How am I meant to react?  What am I watching?

In show I witnessed in my first evening in the festival was the most sexually explicit I have seen in over a decade working and reviewing on  the Fringe.     Showers of coffee and squirting mayonnaise was just the start of it.  Out of respect, however,  for its  huge artistry – and just possibly hoping to start an internet guessing game – I’m not going to name it.  Someone else needs to have that stunned look.

This is a theatre piece, though the audience may have mistaken it for comedy.  I took a ticket and walked in unprepared after the venue flagged it up.

It was billed as a retelling of the New Testament, and like other works before it plays with the character of Mary  Magdalene.   Judas’ kiss, however, may never be quite the same again.

One  comparison that came to mind, though in visual art, is a is a cross between the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ.   It makes the Book of Mormon look tame.

A friend on the comedy front tells me there’s a lot of the rude and crude on the Fringe this year, but this piece falls well before the traditional TV watershed.

It is a considerable piece by a performer who apparently specialises in pushing their own body to the limits.  It offers that same cocktail of repugnant fascination as  say, Last Tango in Paris,   or Calixto Bieito, but leaves less to the imagination.   It’s dangerous and right on the edge and questions the audience on how to react, to laugh or grimace or intervene to try and protect the performer from herself.

A reviewer beside me, in an aisle seat,  scribbled frenetically and very publicly in her notebook,  from time to time looking around and shaking her head, and once or twice just putting  her head in her hands.  She dashed out before the closing number, which was unfortunate, either because of a tight review schedule or just possibly chasing to file for the the Daily Mail.

The show was driven by a gifted actress with a wonderful voice, compelling stagecraft,  and a pretty extraordinary dramatic range.      She took the audience from grossly provocative and disturbingly self-abusive scenes to the kind of mundane mutterings of a 1950s housewife.

It had a brutal ’80s quality to it.  Thankfully, however, it is driven by its female character and does not use the default shock factor of any rape scene.

Many festival and art shows world-wide are addressing turbulent themes of the mid-2010s, when Donald Trump threatens mayhem and Syrian refugees and other migrants are  struggling for merely the barest essentials, to reach a roof over their heads in life and death situations.

It contrasts with a kind of Roman decadence at play in Edinburgh, a place of pilgrimage for Western culture.

A few years ago there was an Edinburgh City Councillor who was relied upon to voice her disgust at shocking fare.   Now we don’t really know how to react.  The Daily Mail might have made hay with this show but then again they might not bother.    Publicists had even thought of calling in the Church Times.

The thought often occurs, with works that confront Christianity or Christ, when nominal Christians are too jaded to respond,  is that if they did the same for Mohammed they’d close after a night under police protection  – and would be seriously artistically brave.      Which makes this piece just a little less challenging.   But you could easily hunt it down and go see.