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.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/brief-history-of-the-fragile-male-ego

Bible John – Pleasance Courtyard

Written by Caitlin McEwan

Directed by Lizzie Manwaring

A recipient of Pleasance’s Charlie Hartill Theatre Reserve 2019, Poor Michelle offer their interpretation on a killer who was never caught, and the culture surrounding him – Bible John.

Gaze around this festival and one prevalent feature will leap at you: serial killers. Musicals, theatre and comedies centring around murder, death and killers litter Edinburgh. It’s by no means a new fascination, we’ve been obsessing over those who would cause grievous harm for centuries, holding them in reverence, canonizing them in history through obsession.

An unsuspecting office finds four women, who know each other only in passing, share one key love, podcasts. Specifically, podcasts surrounding serial killers and unsolved murders. When Bible John becomes the new ‘hot topic’, the girls become enthralled by the case. They turn their passion into an obsession, seeking answers for the lives he would take and for the safety of women across the world.

McEwan’s script blends a gruesome sense of humour, perfectly capturing the natural conversations we have around true crime. For the most part, a delicate balance occurs of characterisation, dramatic tension and even the odd music interlude.

The minimal setting, they make use of every aspect they can, without placing dependence on anything. Video projections are present but never overstay a welcome, sparingly used. No, the delivery from these four performers is what drives Bible John. The sincerity in their ambition to figure out the killer’s identity is entirely believable – one can imagine that sleuthing was already what these four are doing in their spare time. Lizzie Manwaring’s direction offers a comfortable environment, given the subject matter, knowing precisely what to draw from each performer, that is until the ending.

There is, we must mention, a disconnection with Poor Michelle’s production. Towards the finale, a shift in aesthetics occurs, which if taken a different way, may have been a tremendous, movement inspired ending. As it stands, the revisit of the Barrowlands removes much of the tension previously built over the show.

We find a sickening joy in watching the likes of The Staircase, Making a Murderer or listening to Serial and Monster, but for some, they offer more than fascination. They’re warning signs, things to store in the backs of our minds for if this ever happens to us. Bible John has such passion, and so many details it wants to convey that as it works itself into a frenzy, the ending loses what made the production appealing. Otherwise, with a hint of dark humour, Bible John is a look into one of Scotland’s darkest murders, placing gender, violence and fascinations front and centre.

Tickets available from: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/bible-john/performances

Poster courtesy of: Katie Edwards

Bobby & Amy – Pleasance Courtyard

Written & Directed by Emily Jenkins

Runs at Pleasance Courtyard from July 31st – August 26th (not 12th) 12.45pm

Friends, though not at first, Bobby & Amy live their days like, dare say, a great many of us did. They have trouble at home, the hidden side of country small-town life. Both of them bullied, Amy for her peculiarities and Bobby for his savant capabilities, shamelessly referred to as ‘spastic’. They find each other though, companionship with several dozen dairy cows.

Set in the fields of the Cotswolds, predating and following the Foot and Mouth epidemic of the early 2000s – Emily Jenkins captures, in essence, something few else have done. Theatre around this is near non-existent, and as someone who grew up in a tiny farming-village, Jenkins captures the community crushing realism savagely.

Bobby & Amy sits comfortably with those productions which cover the loss of innocence and heartache. As such, comedy has a vital role in balancing things out. A lot of this lies in the lunacy of the townsfolks interactions, misunderstandings and slapstick.

Starring Will Howard and Kimberley Jarvis, Jenkins has struck gold with these phenomenal character performers. With twenty plus residents of the village, you would think one or two of them might be half-arsed, or just not up to scratch as the rest. Quite the contrary, despite only two performers on-stage each one of these neurotics has an individual personality, slouch or physical attribute and story behind them.

While stitching your sides back together, Jenkins writing, particularly authentic, has surprising warmth. Yet it takes chances, not for shock or awe but because it feels right. It’s a timeless tale, and while you can sense a late nineties vibe, it’s frozen in sepia of bruised knees, trees and hay bale tipping.

Bobby and Amy’s companionship feels tangible, as Amy discovers how to respond to Bobby’s unique brilliance, just as Bobby gains a tighter grasp of everyday life. Jarvis and Howard, for all their mayhem as side-characters, are enthralling as Amy and Bobby. The pre-teen angst, just on the cusp of childhood and teenage dramas, they bring a heap of top-class acting.

With its stripped-back set-up of two performers, an all-female production team and a poignant, enduring script, Bobby & Amy is a testament to the beauty of live theatre. Audiences have begun to get wind of the production’s quality, so while you can, take a trip to the Cotswold’s where you’ll laugh, smile and likely shed a tear or two.

Tickets available from: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bobby-amy