Just got back from an intensive weekend of comedy, theatre and music. This was my second trip and again I wished I'd discovered the festival years ago. It's so much fun! We saw a variety of shows over three days. The breadth of talent is formidable, the city buzzes and friendly people share tips for top shows wherever there's a queue, even for the loo.
Ruby Wax in a two women show, 'Losing It' was very funny but also very moving, telling her life story that included a nervous breakdown and periods in and out of The Priory. Ruby is as sharp and quick witted as ever, but also unexpectedly a very visual comedian. It was clear from the question and answer session at the end that there were audience members who related to her through their own experiences of mental illness. She's touring the show to NHS venues and will also be at the Duchess Theatre in London this week.
Another woman artist, Irish Camille O Sullivan, gave a superb performance. Above the stage hung vintage dresses over light bulbs and the piano and drums were decorated with fairy lights. Her performance began as a wacky wicked witch, but as she disrobed she morphed into a wonderfully sexy young woman with a honeycomb voice and melting songs by Nick Cave and Jacques Brel.
Fascinating Aida was another sell out and deservedly so. Three women, one in her sixties, one in her fifties and one in her twenties sang the mick out of politicians, pomposity and cheap airline tickets. Oh, and there was also a song about dogging and some well chosen four letter words. Very entertaining!
Late night Comedy Reserve comedians had to curb some of their choicest language and innuendo, as they were faced with a chatty ten year old child in the front row. What kind of parent deliberately exposes a child to explicit stories and jokes about adult sexual practices? According to the compere, 'cool ones'. I'm not so sure. Although the child seemed more bothered by a possible racist comment. With a propensity to answer the comedians' rhetorical questions in a loud attention-seeking way, he became part of the entertainment, but not the show we'd paid our money for.
On the more serious side, Oedipus, directed and adapted by Stephen Berkoff (after Sophocles) was interesting. Unfortunately, Berkoff, the actor was indisposed and so we missed his rendering of King Oedipus. The play is set in ancient Greece at a time of plague and turmoil. However, even this dramatic and moving play about a son brought up by surrogate parents, who unwittingly kills his birth father and marries his birth mother, had its funny moments. Mainly in the character of Oedipus's wife/mother played by Anita Dobson (Angie, the landlady of the Old Vic in Eastenders). She looked more like Oedipus's grandmother, but that would have been fine if she'd done more than move around the stage like an wimp geriatric ghost.
Splendid Isolation, is a play by Nick Ward set in an outpost of the colonies in the late eighteenth century and tells a tale of pearl and slave trading, addiction and madness. The token slave character, played by a beautiful black woman, was also directed as a ghost in the cream-coloured clothes of her ex-master. The opportunity to develop her character outside of the stereotype exotic black woman was disappointingly missed.
The Girl with an Iron Claw was a beautiful fairy story performed by four gifted actors and their puppets to an entranced adult audience. Pity there were no kids. There was a ten year old at the festival who might have enjoyed it.
Finally, the show I'd asked all my friends to come and see and which played to another packed crowd, was performed by The Dog-Eared Collective. My friend's daughter Joanna Hutt and three pals from Uni make up the group. Their material is surreal and anarchic. Among several very funny sketches, the Snooker sketch, Party Planning for Wakes and the St John's Ambulance sketch stood out. Oh, and the super small hero trying to bring justice and wage war on behalf of people vertically challenged. And then there was the audience participation...