Veteran Fringe reviewer, Paul F Cockburn delivers a series of micro-reviews from Edinburgh Fringe, all of the work featuring disabled talent.
Resurrecting Bobby Awl
This telling of Richard Kirkwood’s story is a fractured call for identity and recognition.
Robert Kirkwood was so physically disabled that his parents abandoned him, and the boy – soon named “Bobby Awl” – became the most infamous “street idiot” in 19th century Edinburgh.
Until, that is, his friend “Daft Jamie” gained superior immortality as a victim of the murderers Burke and Hare.
Artist Brian Catling’s play is a theatrical sharing of Bobby’s rise and fall, which we’re asked to pass on; there’s a deliberate hint of fairytale – as a newborn, Bobby was kept warm in a large boot, hung over a smokey fire.
Presented within the constrained atmosphere of an old anatomy lecture theatre (of a former veterinary training college), the production cleverly dissects Bobby Awl’s life and times.
Sadly, we never see “Bobby Awl” on stage—apart from a skull cast made after his death. As a result, he – and the disability he symbolises – exists only as something that’s spoken about, not experienced.
16.00; 31 July-25 August (not 1, 12, 19); Venue 26; Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL
Three disabled people find new confidence through their self-created stage personae.
Would Sir Ian McKellan really delay the start of a show because he wanted to stay in the bath? Whatever, the very idea’s an indicator of the fun when Zara, Kirsty and Lee take to the stage.
Especially as they become bold new characters: sex-obsessed Hollywood diva Zia; the foul-mouthed, hard-core KK Killer; and superhero ladies’ man Captain Everyman.
Except for the occasional interruption from an off-stage Sir Ian, it’s all going along swimmingly, and entertainingly—until the voice of the stage manager angrily orders them to stop what they’re doing and get off the stage.
This, arguably, is where “Fix Us” gets political: by now we’re firmly on their side. To see the three crushed by a hostile and nasty world is terrible.
But as they slip off their costumes, something of those characters thankfully lingers: “Be strong, keep your head up, knock them dead!”
12.20; 1-25 August (not 7-8, 12-14, 19-21); Venue 61; Delhi Belly, Underbelly Cowgate, 66 Cowgate, Edinburgh, EH1 1JX
This two-woman ‘one-woman show’ successfully highlights the realities of living with a disabling condition.
There’s a game you can play during LipSync, a new example of Cumbernauld Theatre’s “Invited Guest” programme involving artists with unique life experiences.
“Spot the disabled person.”
LipSync is a one-woman show featuring two actors, Kirsty Young and Alisa Davidson. Dressed identically, they sit at hospital tables. They speak the same lines, either simultaneously or successively.
Only Kirsty, though, has Cystic Fibrosis. Ailsa, we’re told later, is there “to help with the heavy lifting”.
Grounded in Kirsty’s experience of slowly-but-surely losing lung capacity – “drowning from the inside,” as they eloquently put it – LipSync occasionally verges on public lecture, but expertly uses soundscapes and lighting to create both atmosphere and empathy.
When Kirsty specifically identifies herself – and, yes, I had guessed which of the two was her – it, therefore, has real impact. We’re left face-to-face with the realities of CF, the very human face of disability.
16.05; 1-17 August (not 5, 12); Venue 26; TechCube 0, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL
Louder Is Not Always Clearer
Attempting to express deafness and Deaf identity through words and movement is not always clearer either.
“I am a deaf man,” Jonny Cotsen types onto the projector screen at the back of the stage. “It was not a word we used when growing up. I find words… difficult.”
This is at the heart of a show that’s pushed as being his own personal journey as “a deaf person trapped in a hearing world”, with recorded quotes from his unseen mother which rather suggest a fear of the stigma of disability. How effective it is, though, is questionable.
There are certainly highly effective sections: for example, the “safety helmet” self-created out of numerous sets of headphones and duct-tape, combined with a live-mixed, high-volume soundscape, gives us a genuinely effective “translation” of the limitations of hearing aids.
Nevertheless, the narrative at times feels disconnected, with insufficient dramatic thrust to carry us through to him now as a seemingly confident, D/deaf artist and person.
14.30; 31 July-25 August (not 7, 12, 19); Venue 26; TechCube 0, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall Place, Edinburgh, EH9 1PL
Don’t try to take on Aaron’s gran on social media…
Aaron Simmonds, still pretty proud of being awarded Jewish Comedian of the year 2017, is a delightfully bold comedian who’s not afraid of playing on his cerebral palsy for comedic effect, either on stage or real life.
So it’s somewhat ironic that Aaron’s main theme is how– despite relying on a wheelchair and his chair-climbing skills – he’s been accused of “not being disabled enough”, dismissed by one tweeter as a “plastic cripple talking about his sex life”.
Admittedly, he does spend a lot of his time talking about his girlfriend (now fiancé), and how they’ve occasionally winded up non-disabled people who’ve pissed them off. Just as often, though, the object of ridicule is himself; and how the parameters of “embarrassing” are necessarily different for disabled people.
The main audience takeaway is much simpler, though. Don’t, whatever you do, take on his gran via social media. She’ll own you.
13.30; 31 July-26 August (not 12); Venue 302; Dexter, Underbelly Bristo Square, Teviot Place, Edinburgh, EH8 9AG