She Can’t Half Talk – Bedlam Theatre

Presented by The Edinburgh University Theatre Company

Written & Directed by Sally MacAlister

Runs at Bedlam Theatre until August 25th

Fostering recent accomplishments with female writers, as part of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, writer Sally MacAlister’s term-time hit She Can’t Half Talk makes a Fringe debut. A series of six femme-lead monologues which focus on unusual or untold perspectives. Stitching together tales of gender and sexuality pervading all aspects of life, She Can’t Half Talk is a delightful collection of stories drawing comfort in their neighbours. Humorous, honest, raw and at times difficult to stomach, this is a superb production with a touching manner.

Trimming for a Fringe run-time, the six monologues are set on rotation, and after witnessing half of the show – you’ll likely crave the rest. Never has such a tantalising opener delivered like this, with six individuals, each with a staggering, relatable story to share. So, stop me if you’ve heard this one – A Cougar, A Foetus, A Camgirl, A Drag Queen, An Actor and A Victim walk onto a stage…

This evening we were in for a treat, an odd term to use with the powerful subject matter, but with largely diverse performances, it’s a delight to watch them and be moved all the same. First, The Actor – Michael Zwiauer, a young gentleman whose Hamlet is up there with the greats, the only issue? He wants to try something new; he wants to be known as someone different. He doesn’t want to be the camp, effeminate Hamlet. An advance in coverage, it helps bring She Can’t Half Talk into the realm of sexuality and gender roles. A voice not many will hear, whipping the rug from beneath us in a powerful performance from Zwiauer.

Here we notice the only drawback to a smaller scale production; transitions can be messy – drawn out with the minimal stagehand. They do a valiant job, a single-member re-arranging props and blocks, but it slows momentum.

Moving from here, we have easily the most effective performance from Áine Higgins, a young Irish woman who refuses to be seen as the victim, even when she has been suffering horrendous abuse. It’s schizophrenic how wildly we swing from an independent, stoic woman and yet, a young girl who refuses to be seen as anything but capable. Higgins delivers such presence in the tougher moments, that even when disgusted by what you hear, she tells the story in such a visceral way, you feel the crunches, the pops and the slaps. It’s a testament to EUTC’s high standards of talent.

And while Higgins may claim the more intense piece, it is Hannah Churchill’s Cougar who receives the juiciest role for laughs, insight and memorable moments. Speaking with her therapist, Zwiauer in a marvellous ‘silent protagonist’ role, this Cougar worries about being forgotten. It’s a comedic piece with wonderful witty writing, concealing a distressing examination of double standards women face as they grow older. Churchill not only balances these laughs with poignancy, but her presence is remarkable.

With only a taster of some of the tales, The Edinburgh University Theatre Company and Sally MacAlister’s writing pushes open the door for femme-lead stories. Saucy, intense and on occasion insightful, this is a production with clout, with gravity and an obvious future in theatre.

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A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego – Pleasance Dome

Presented by Jordan & Skinner with Pleasance

Runs at Pleasance Dome until August 26th

Today we’re having a presentation on A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego. We even have special guests! Sigmund Freud, Julius Ceaser, and Poseidon himself may make an appearance. These talks usually fall flat, but perhaps with visual aids and atmosphere of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, maybe we can finally discuss the importance of protecting the male ego?

It’s no laughing matter – at this very moment, half of the world’s population are being put down, humiliated and neglected. Men are having their precious egos abandoned by the women who ought to be reinforcing them. To do what precisely – to work, grow as individuals, fight off oppression and rising right-wing aggression? Or maybe, they’re just too busy gossiping and ignoring their duty of care. Well, thankfully Andrea from the Society of Men’s Universal Truth (SMUT) is trying to straighten out all of this nonsense.

Drawing inspiration from experiences with anti-feminist movements, Men’s rights activists and #NotAllMen advocates – First Fringe winners Jordan & Skinner bring their brand of frivolity crashing down on the ridiculous claims grown men have over their precious egos. Think Horrible Histories meets Margaret Atwood – but somehow subtler.  

Issues with the flow slow what should be an upbeat tempo – largely this lies in sketches which rely too heavily on running gags, if the jokes didn’t land the first time, it isn’t going to. Sigmund Freud’s visits are enjoyable, magnificent characterisation – exaggerating enough to sell the role, then, we have the ‘things to die for’ with William Wallace, an intriguing concept which painstakingly drags.

There’s an incredibly touching, if horrendously dark, but true subtext. That for all the joking, the male ego is fragile – not the fault of women, who have no control or hand in creating this. Instead, the very patriarchy which preaches how important it is to preserve ego, are who creates conditions where men don’t discuss mental illness. It’s here the writing makes up for any jokes which fall flat, an island of powerful commentary amidst the waves of silly.

SMUT thankfully fails to convince us the male ego is a rare creature worth protecting, where A Brief History of the Fragile Male Ego succeeds is through part-sketch, part-commentary, with absolute clownish brilliance let down by painstaking improve sections.

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Hughie – Gilded Balloon Teviot

Written by Eugene O’Neill

Presented by Gilded Balloon, Comedian’s Theatre Company & Marshall Corden

Al Pacino, Jason Robards, Forest Whitaker, and now, Phil Nichol, one hell of a listing to have one common trait, what is it you may wonder? They’ve all performed the role of loveable rogue Erie Smith in Eugene O’Neill’s short, one-act production of Hughie. Set in midtown New York, as a gambler laments the passing of the old night clerk Hughie, who he would consider his good luck charm.

It’s a rapscallion role, Erie, it requires a roguish charm to pull off. Nichol, a veteran of the Fringe for his comedy, takes to the role remarkably. His theatrical capabilities stem almost as far back as his comedic turn, so he is no stranger to the craft, unlike what suspicions may arise at first. His Erie has ample amounts of pathos, we connect with him almost instantly, still with a playful side.

When you’re working with little dialogue, you make every damn second count – which is precisely what Mike McShane capitalises on. Known for his comedic turns on Whose Line Is It Anyway? McShane delivers a subtle amount of heart as new night clerk Hughes. The only real downside is that his funniest delivery is once the show finishes, as he’s plugging the show’s online presence.

The real killer is an issue the boys cannot fix themselves – the script isn’t that funny. As a slice of theatrical history, Hughie is a charming one-act production which allows trim roles for solid performances. As a comedic piece of theatre, even with two veteran performers able to mix both artforms, it just doesn’t cut it. This incarnation of Hughie is aiming for humour, where it lands is a stand-alone piece with superb performers attempting to prop a weaker script.

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