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

SIX – Festival Theatre

Written by Toby Marlow & Lucy Moss

Directed by Lucy Moss & Jamie Armitage

History is widely written by men; no wonder we didn’t pay attention in school. Unless you have had the misfortune of a beheading or being pushed into a nunnery by your gout-suffering brut of a husband, Six is the concert musical sensation which rules the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, stormed the Westend and conquered Broadway. They may have been divorced, beheaded and died, but on stage, they thrive. 

A testament to the colossal power of a lucrative, stimulating idea and the influence of the Festival Fringe, Six descends on high to mingle with the common folk. This regal return for the wives of Henry VIII reminds us all that behind the man were six efficacious, prominent and notably individual women. All of whom deserve a damn-site more praise and attention than their historical footnotes.

Of course, the real question is: “who’s your favourite”? Which Queen deserves to lead the band, own her crown and step out from Henry’s broad shadow? Should it be the seductress Anne Boleyn; the woman who would give birth to Queen Elizabeth I? Or maybe, the Spanish mother, the O.G, Catherine of Aragon is the royal of your heart? Or could it just be those other women, the ones whose names sit on the edge of your tongue? Six has a primary concert premise, a seventy-five-minute run-time, but vivacious talent, legions of fans and a cast of undeniably skilled women befitting their crowns.  

So, roll up your Green Sleeves lords and ladies of the court, it’s a right royal rumble, for now at least. From the scintillating imagination of Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, Six pounds with a heart of musical theatre, but with the blood and teeth of a gig. Both Marlow and Mosses’ lyrical ability gifts the audience with ten unique numbers full of a rainbow of hilarity, affection, cattiness and fury. The vocals of the team, consisting of Lauren Drew, Maddison Bulleyment, Lauren Byrne, Shekinah McFarlane, Jodie Steele and Athena Collins has an intense, diverse range of tone, purpose and delivery.

There are raps, power ballads and break-out those glowsticks folks – we have club-house beats. It is though, Steele’s number ‘All You Wanna Do’ which has a lyricism and choreography that delves swiftly from raunchy into depraved, tormenting and a piece of artistic expression which holds context across centuries. In reverse, Haus of Holbein and Get Down shatter the glass ceiling, shake the Festival theatre and propel the audience into bursts of energetic movements, courtesy of McFarlane who channels enviable energy, a lust for life and pizazz which carries us into the shows second half.

In transitioning to the stage, minor adjustments have been taken to provide a sense of theatricality for the touring production. For those familiar with the Queen’s Fringe performances, the changes make a welcome addition, though in moments the crowns need a little polish. Chiefly, communicating pathos to the audience, emotion ramped up from a natural state, where the lyrics and vocals are equally capable of conveying the destructive abuse of histories obsession with sexualising these women.

Blasting concerns of the production occupying the venue space, Emma Bailey’s set design maintains its structure from previous years – evidence to how well-thought the original construction was. Playfully, the lighting design transforms concert dynamics, spotlights make the obvious appearance, but it is the neon, the bulb-lights and manner in which Tim Deiling’s lighting design knows precisely what temperature and shading will contrast, or indeed complement each number which heightens the show.

Before we go, before you even think we’re done; let’s mention Gabriella Slade’s costumes. Sharp stitching houses the essence of characterisation in glorious shades of attitude. It wouldn’t be a show about Queen’s, had their gowns not slain quite as mercilessly as their husband. Nor would they be anywhere without their ladies in waiting; Arlene McNaught, Vanessa Domonique, Frankie South and Kat Bax on instrumentals, McNaught also providing musical direction.

Lucy Moss & Toby Marlow have given a voice to the past, a voice which in-turn speaks for the future. Placing these icons of history in the spotlight, Six is more than a concert history lesson, it has a vaster depth than a feminist musical; Six is an example of the trials of passion, a coming together in the name of rejoice, not revenge and vitally, is a show worth losing your head over.

SIX runs at teh Festival theatre until February 9th. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/six-the-musical

Photo Credit: Johan Persson