Misbehaviour – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Phillipa Lowthorpe

Written by Rebecca Frayn & Gaby Chiappe

Beauty with a Purpose,’ was the slogan for the longest-running beauty pageant, Miss World; one which didn’t come into effect until around 30 years after the contest’s conception. This saw the addition of intelligence and personality ‘points’ to deter from the previous, purely aesthetic decisions in judging. Misbehaviour from director Phillipa Lowthorpe focuses on the catalyst which sparked this change in the pageant.

Miss World 1970 is fresh from record-high viewership the previous year, and a group from the Women’s Liberation plan on disrupting the event. Begrudgingly at first, history student Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) joins Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) in an attempt to draw attention to the abusive control of the patriarchy, and how the objectification of the women involved in the contest reinforces this for future generations. All the while the pageant dodges controversy, threats and attempts to secure legendary American comic Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) to host the event.

Here we stumble on the first step, which is the heft of capability with this cast; so much that our attentions are spread. Just as a scene or interaction builds to an investable conclusion, there’s another plotline which needs addressing. Kinnear, who perhaps has the trickiest task as Bob Hope, attempts to offer dimensions to the role, but there isn’t enough screen time for the presence to sink in. It’s an amiable performance, a canny likeness, but Kinnear is only able to capture the misogyny, not the man attempting to live up to his notoriety. Revelling in the raffish attitude is Rhys Ifans, as Eric Morley, ‘Mr Miss World’, alongside Keeley Hawes as his wife Julia. Ifans is hammy, even by his standards, but it works due to Morley’s attitude, his larger than life persona.

Pitching itself as following the formation, and propelling the coverage of, the Women’s Liberation movement, Misbehaviour intends on also showcasing a semi-biographic of Bob Hope, Eric and Julia Morley and Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada. All stories worth their salt, but the division means little weight sits on the shoulders of analysis; there isn’t time to invest, to hate or to cherish these characters. Particularly so in the case of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who offers much promise as Hosten in the brief, but invested, snippet scenes she shares with Knightley. 

Overly considerate, Misbehaviour seems a little too British for its own good. Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe’s script leans towards the pleasantly accessible in focus, rather than the bold. It doesn’t follow its narrative journey, that while the women in the film know where to draw out the big guns, the filmmakers seem to try and concentrate on finesse for comedy and whopping out the sledgehammers for commentary, achieving neither.  

There is though, a cleverness to aspects of the screenplay, particularly in the reinforcement of allegories drawn between the objectification of women and reflective attitudes. Had this been maintained throughout, Misbehaviour could have been a spectacular comedy-drama. From the hopeful’s measurements, their constant corralling on stage and off, and the numbered discs present on the women’s wrists and ‘rump cam’ shots, Frayn and Chiappe build on this image of the contest as a cattle market. 

It’s perhaps a backhanded compliment, but there’s little inherently wrong with Lowthorpe’s film. On the whole, Misbehaviour’s intentions are admirable, and for the bulk of the film the humour balances, the interpretations of people are held throughout, but there’s a division in narrative arcs. Everything feels three-quarters full, that there’s more emotion to draw out and deeper connections to be made. Sitting at just under two hours, Misbehaviour could have easily held an audience for a further fifteen minutes, even half an hour, which would allow the film to serve as a tribute to all of those involved, rather than the couple we hone in on.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/misbehaviour/

Hotter – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Written & Performed by Mary Higgins & Ell Potter

Directed by Jessica Edwards

Real talk here; what gets you off? Do you prefer to be cold or too warm? How about your toilet trips, how’re they coming? These may be the sorts of questions which make some of us blush, so you better crack a window, it’s about to get Hotter in here. Tired of playing life by the straight and narrow, writers and performers Mary Higgins & Ell Potter are best friends, previously dating, and want to discover what gets you hot, and are tired of playing things cool. 

Chemistry is everything, and unsurprisingly, Higgins & Potter have it in droves. Not only with one another, but with their audience, and while there is little to no direct interaction, the room feels like one unit. It’s a safe space, where all the ‘gross’ or ‘private’ affairs are out in the open, slathered on the floor and up for discussion. Because why the hell not? Why should what makes us tick, how we bump, rub and grind through the world be something confined to closed doors, and in the cases of women and transgender, kept silent? Higgins & Potter have a voice, and they intend on using it to speak for the people they have interviewed, young and old, proud and self-conscious, shavers and growers.

More than spoken word, these interviews have been compiled into a delightful expression of movement, which moves from the ludicrous to the sultry, and the downright addictive. Further enhancing an authentic feel, the tightness of the pair’s movements does slip, they laugh, they tumble and smile at one another, and it completely sells the intent of the show – this is the paradigm of feelgood, inclusive theatre. Twerking, slow dancing and incorporating this movement into the physical aspect of comedy, Hotter may well be a comedy in shape, but it has a sympathy of dance sweats of spoken word beneath.

This comedic form prominently exposes itself cheekily as Higgins & Potter incorporate ‘skits’ into the production, is a piece of brilliance. Imitation is the name of the game as the pair give character to the voiceovers we hear of the interviewees. Ranging across the board, each person feels whole, even if a caricature. There’s a backstory in the way Higgins holds her nose up at the woman who preaches warm over cold, or an understanding slouch from Potter. Additionally, the recordings of the girls meeting with Pommie, Potter’s gran, adds a sincerity which touches a nerve, reminding us that despite the humourous nature there’s emotion to Hotter.

Unabashedly diving arse-first into the opinions and feelings concerning body hair, periods, boobs, body image and masturbation, Hotter isn’t here to educate, to drive opinion or push, this is a chat with sincere frankness in delivery. Reflective of the slow removal of clothes, Hotter doesn’t lunge face-first, it gradually builds, as if reflecting the growing self-confidence in accepting our bodies. Exquisitely simple, comforting, Higgins & Potter aren’t talking down to the audience, nor across them, this is our show, your show and it’s about the women and trans people who just want to talk about these things in as natural a way as possible. 

And that’s Hotter’s strength right there, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter. Who not only write a spectacularly exquisite production but carry it in such a genuine manner that nothing feels clinical or intense. Health conscious forbidding, the desire to leap up, embrace a stranger and feel a connection erupts as the show closes. Returning in August, it couldn’t be clearer that even as someone who prefers the cold, sometimes you just have to get a little sweaty, a little flushed and a lot, lot Hotter.

Photo Credit – Holly Revell

Cirque Berserk – Festival Theatre

Creative Direction by Julius Green

What’s a circus without a tent, but maintains all the wonderous surprises we would find within? Why a Berserkus of course! That’s precisely what Cirque Berserk aims to achieve with their touring production. An amalgamation of more than thirty circus stunts honed within the big tops of the world and melding them into the stages of the UK, pairing the traditional artform of the ring, with the approach of the stage. Motorcycles, gymnasts, clown antics and even the occasional ‘animal’, they certainly deliver on a circus front, but can you really contain such a large event to a smaller, confined space?

Authentic circus experiences (complete with expensive merchandise), made for theatrical setting, this is the mantra for Cirque Berserk. The best of both worlds, capitalising on the idea of staging this production, attempting to communicate the circus experience, but on occasions, scope suffers. Fundamentally, their staging cannot replicate a ring, no matter the construct or innovation. Now, replication may not be the intention, aiming to present a new form of artistic creativity, but at times, the additional space would limit the feeling of a crowding.

Presenting danger in such proximity with the audience though is a game-changer. Particularly the feats of the daredevil Lucius Team, who silence the neigh sayers with their first act performance, and leave them aghast at their return. Exhilarating and occasionally breathtaking, you only need to listen to the audience around to gain a semblance of the impact these stunts still take. Knife-throwing, human launches and trapeze work command silence before thundering applause follow. Occasionally the sadists out there may not sense a genuine aura of danger, but on the whole, the trickery and stunt work is second to none – these are masters of their respective talents, with the Khadgaa Troupe and the Timbuktu Tumblers claiming the right of death-defying feats and the audiences’ appreciation.

An authentic circus requires a focal point, a driving force for the audience to connect with. Storytelling isn’t an inherent part of Cirque Berkerk’s format, it’s a collection of impressive stunts, rather than a narrative performance. We may not build a personal relationship with The Lucius or Khadgaa Troupes, but boy do we find a charmer with Paulo Dos Santos. The comedic heart of the show, with acrobatic skill rivalling the headliner acts, he embodies berserkus nature. He may have a few loose screws to sign up to these stunts, but there are lashings of performance capabilities and diverse skill.

Santos is a weapon of sorts, a key component of what separates Berserk from others of its ilk, but in places, it isn’t enough. There is no question of merit or skill, but there are concerns on originality for circus fans or regular visitors. Only a spattering of sets feels unique, sometimes for peculiar reasons, such as the large, robotic invader who fails to make an appearance outside of his fireworks display or the swooping owl, a brilliant piece of costume design, but peculiar in placement.

No longer do you need to trek into the wilderness to catch the circus, but perhaps that’s where Cirque Berserk loses the magic. Achieving their goal of theatrical experience, the dimensions of the tent don’t carry over, and remove a smidge of the adventure quality. No question of skillset, nor the solid teamwork present by the company, this paves the way for similar experiences within closed settings, but you may find yourself enjoying the spectacle, but missing the crunch of grass beneath your feet, and the warm aroma of popcorn pervading the air.  

Cirque Berserk runs at The Festival Theatre until Sunday March 15th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cirque-berserk