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Interview: Lee Delong @ the Brighton Fringe
Uncommon Comedy are bringing four shows to Brighton
The Mumble caught up with their director-creator
Hello Lee, where are you from & where are you living today?
Hi Mumble. Nice of you to invite me for an interview, thanks very much. I have been living in France for 37 years, of that about 15 years in Paris and now 22 years in a small village outside of Paris, in a little house overlooking the Seine. It’s very peaceful and full of birdsong. I grew up in wild, wonderful West Virginia, so I consider myself French (which I am) and West Virginian!
Can you tell us a little about what you do?
I’ve always been first and foremost an actress, but as a young actress, I had to supplement my income. I began to clown at university football games—learned juggling and unicycling and balloon making, then clowned at children’s parties. So when I moved to France, I was accustomed to being resourceful. I was limited largely because my French wasn’t yet good enough for the stage, leading me to expand my acting work into directing. And I love it, even though acting is my first love, and have enjoyed working on some fabulous stages in France.
I started to teach because of the war in Bosnia. I had worked in the Balkans in the years before the war, and I had many friends and colleagues there. I wanted to do something to help, and they said they needed teachers. (I was an actress, not a teacher. What could I do?) I had recently finished Lecoq School and I felt quite comfortable with the clown as a theatrical style and felt that it was suited to war-time needs. I began teaching clown at Akademija Umjetnosti, their National School in Sarajevo, then later took over their movement courses. The clown class became so popular that I am still teaching it, since 1994, and in fact often end up creating shows with my previous students.
In other words, to answer your question, what I do is act, direct, create, and teach.
How did you get into theatre in the first place?
When I was a very small child, I made up shows and characters to entertain my sisters. I loved getting people to laugh at my ‘boy who eats a butterfly,’ or my ‘fly stuck in the car’ routines. Then in first grade, I played Mrs. Santa in her eponymous show. I fell asleep in the chair after Santa left to distribute toys, as rehearsed, but I improvised her snoring quite loudly, which got lots of guffaws. I’ve never looked back. I did shows in high schools and community theatre, then studied theatre in drama school, then attended Ecole Jacques Lecoq….I’ve never known anything else.
Last year you were at the Brighton Fringe, can you tell us about the experience?
Last year, the wonderful Ralf Wetzel performed our Absolutely Reliable!, which is a collaboration born of one of my workshops. It started with just a little mask I had bought in a joke and magic shop in Paris, but when Ralf put it on, he became George from head to toe. It was remarkable. The mask is now much more elaborate, and the show has lived on many stages, and we were thrilled to be part of Brighton Fringe last year. I adore this city! I spent many Christmas holidays here and cherish the memories of walks on the beach and the pier. I once played here, Worstward Ho! by Samuel Beckett with the Gare St. Lazare Players. I love the energy of this place, and the Brighton Fringe is my favorite of all the many Festivals I’ve attended. It’s large yet remains friendly. And it’s in a gorgeous setting. It’s got it all.
This year you’re bringing reinforcements – what’s the story?
Ralf had the idea to bring several of my shows together for a tour. I have seven shows extant at this time, but we would need a fortune to get that going! However, Ralf is a miracle maker and he managed to organize four different companies with four different pieces to come under one roof for the first time in my theatrical life! It’s very exciting! Two shows from Croatia: Obligation with beautiful artist, Nikolina Majdak with whom I’ve worked since 2007, and Black Petra, a children’s show, my only one, with Nikolina and the fabulous Iva Peter-Dragan whose company Triko I’ve worked with for more than a decade. From Serbia, we have Stefan Ostojić, a truly gifted performer, with the solo, Lala, a delightful show. And of course, The Heist. Something for everyone!
Where did the idea for Uncommon Comedy come from?
The idea to do Uncommon Comedy came from Ralf, the title is mine. Uncommon Comedy because it is an uncommon way I have of working. I search deeply into each actor to find what are his strengths and weaknesses. I stretch and amplify that to create themes that emerge from the artist’s own accumulation of knowledge and observation. And whether the style is red-nose, mask, movement, dance, or comi-tragedy, it is physical theatre in a very pure form, usually without words, without set. I believe in the virtuosity of the actor. All you need is light and an actor….and music. I often use a musician who is part of the experience. He/she is on-stage, visible to the public for the whole performance. I like to create a soundscape that replaces the set and sometimes even objects. I like a creation that links directly to a public, that evokes joy, anger, tears, laughter….all the emotions that link us as humans.
Can you tell us about each of the shows?
I will give you a little text for each that I wrote specifically for Brighton Fringe:
is an allegory of the prevailing power of innocence, which mixes clown, dance, movement, and object manipulation. The live music on-stage enlarges the actor’s playing space and ignites the public’s imagination. This whimsical performance incites an interrogation of what one small person must do to combat catastrophe. With Nikolina Majdak, music: Lucija Stanojević, and the man in the suit: Mario Miličić.
features four full masks created and played by a single actor, without objects, without set, making the soundscape primordial. The multi-instrumentalist on-stage synches the high whistle of darting off a cliff, the moment of frozen silence, the whoosh of falling, the bam splat of landing….all these things that speak volumes in pictorial language. This piece is a lone man’s struggle to survive the repercussions of a pandemic. With Ralf Wetzel, music: Max Charue.
is pure red-nose clown. A solo virtuosity which tells a folk tale in a revisited version. In this piece, the music is the movement of the actor, though he plays several instruments himself, to tell the age-old story of star-crossed lovers who wring a happy ending out of a cruel destiny. With Stefan Ostojić.
is a red-nose clown duo for young public, which tells a story of initiation. Two girls, best of friends, get sucked into the cyber world, and must make an arduous journey to save themselves. The original soundtrack fills this world of monsters and battles and super heroines with a symphony of fantastical sound. With Iva Peter-Dragan and Nikolina Majdak.
Do they all get together sometimes?
They have never been all together at the same time, except on-line. This will be a first!
Why do you think solo shows such as yours have so much power in performance?
Not all my shows are solo shows, but when they are, the actor must be the motor. It is the actor we’re looking at and I want him/her to play like it’s the last day on earth. As I mentioned, I believe in the virtuosity of actors, without the ego. The public is the only partner when it’s a solo, so the link to the public must be incredibly strong. The public must believe that a truth is being spoken, and that under the laughter there is something to nourish your soul.
So you have 20 seconds to sell each of the shows on the streets of Brighton, what do you say?
Obligation: Come to see a delightful, whimsical allegory, with a masterful mover and incredible music!
The Heist: An homage to dispossessed restaurant owners everywhere! A very rare performance of solo-full-mask with music that absolutely delights!
Lala: This show is lesson in virtuosity by a red-nose theatre clown–not circus clown–an age-old tale told in a remarkable way!
Black Petra: Two red-nose clowns who are catapulted through a rapid-fire adventure! Unusual children’s fare!
What does the rest of 2023 hold in store for Lee DeLong & Uncommon Comedy?
For Uncommon Comedy….who knows? If we have someone interested in the whole package, we would be delighted to continue! This is, as I said, a first, and could be expanded to include three more of my shows, for the brave of heart.
As for myself, Stefan and I are leaving immediately following Brighton Fringe to attend Zagreb Clown Festival by Triko Cirkus Teatar, headed by Iva Peter-Dragan. We’re playing on the 12th May. Otherwise, I have a bit of TV to do in France with the wonderful Antoine Garceau who was on the Call My Agent team. He’s adapting Camus’ La Peste in a short series and I’m lucky enough to be a small part of it. I’m also continuing an animation series that I’ve been doing for two years: Xilam’s Chip & Dale: Park Life. In November, I’m honored to be teaching for Healthy Humor in NYC, along with some incredible clown masters. I’ll be directing a clown revisitation of Romeo & Juliet for the National Theatre in Sarajevo at the beginning of next year….And who knows what else will pop up!!
BUY TICKETS HERE
Cirque Alphonse: Animal
Underbelly’s Circus Hub
Until the 27th (16.25)
The company, which unites the Carabinier-Lépine family and friends, gets its name from Saint-Alphonse-Rodriguez, its municipality of origin in Lanaudière. The Québec fibre is central to each Cirque Alfonse creations as the troupe draws on national folklore for themes, to which a modern touch is added.
The Alfonse clan has captured the hearts the public in 2011 with its lumber camp in Timber!, and its cabaret electro-traditional cabaret in Barbu in 2014 followed by Tabarnak in 2017. After having toured the globe several times and experienced worldwide success, the troupe returns to give you have an unforgettable time. with this new production called Animal.
My 2nd visit to the Lafayette Big Top on The Meadows to witness death-defying world-class acrobatics, I had the good fortune of getting review tickets from this all singing, all dancing rock n roll Family Acrobatic Opera. With a full backing band that deserved a 5 Star performance of their own. Such was the brilliance of the musicians that created this dynamic soundtrack, All of the family of acrobats shared vocal duties, the two beautiful lady acrobats were also the lead singers. The songs presented were all indigenous to the Motherland of Crique Alphonse, agricultural farm fables, Hence the working title of “Animal” Farm Animal to be exact, The Lafayette was transformed into a working dairy farm with a Kick Ass Soundsystem.
With simple props, the audience were on the edges of their seats as this family of accrobats performed beautifully choreographed athletic feats of draw dropping eye candy, with a very funny rubber chicken sketch, the little ones in the audience thought it was very very funny, I did too. It was a big family audience for a big family show. Three generations of family. From the stilt walking, Tractor Wheelying Grandpa, who also shares vocal duties. To the closing scene where the newest additions to Cirque Alfonze, balancing on Daddies hand without a flinch.
Animal is perfect for families and it brings the inner child out in all that see it.
Roll Up, Roll Up. Get Yer Tickets Now. The Alphonses Are In Town.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Assembly Roxy (15.30)
Run Completed today
Do you know what we mean by Zoë?
We mean the roar
The clock and the stone
They all roar
Old industrial knitting machines
The red jug and the waxflowers roar
Small mountains roar
The North Sea
And permafrost roar
The Lancefield bus roars
Eukaryotic cells roar
Slugs and fire and
The white sky roar
The exhausted ensemble roars
The words we have roar
Cups of tea roar
The sunrise and
Zoe Roars Yes
The Assembly Roxy is a Gothic Church in Edinburgh’s old town, the
perfect venue for this surreal and abstract work of art. Physical theatre company A Good Catch, all the way from Melbourne, bring a visual spectacle in the form of acrobatics, gymnastics, circus arts and clownwork, three performers working together as one cohesive and incredibly impressive unit. Everything in their triumphant displays of physicality seems perfectly placed and very deliberate, every movement motivated by another or by the piece’s stimulus.
Transported into a world where nothing makes sense, the performance begins with the above poem “Zoe” Projected onto a table and the cast. Debra Batton, Sharon Gruenert & Spenser Inwood begin this piece of surreal and abstract choreographed genius. With clever use of simple props to demonstrate the strength, skill and agility of our three acrobats, with gasps aplenty coming from the audience, surrealism never looked so good. I still have no idea what it all meant, but it was delicious eye-candy and it did take one’s mind out of the box, to make one think in a different way. Indeed that is surrealism’s job to make one think and leave a lasting impression..
An all-round 5 star Performance.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
Aug 10-14 (15.00)
The Pleasance Beyond is a lovely large space for theatre, & so to see the ‘The Trial,’ by the Young Pleasance ensemble. Based on Frans Kafka’s early 20th century novel, The Trial, Tim Norton has transcreated in a new piece in which tells of how Joseph K is arrested and prosecuted in a medical trial for reasons unbeknown to him or the audience on his 21st Birthday.
the play then depicts, metaphorically, allegorically, whatever, & just plain weirdly the struggles of combating bureaucratic authorities in the most surrealistic of manners. Interludes of dance and live set changes transport you into the dream state of Joseph K and leave you as baffled as he is by his set of circumstances.
The acting was very intense but wasn’t enough to engage me emotionally. The costumes were fantastically tailored and represented each character well. The lighting was extremely well done, creating great atmosphere and mood, especially the use of torch light to emphasis the speaker throughout the trial scene, but then all proceeding suddenly rushed to an abrupt halt, a rather vague experience leaving me dazed & confused about what I had just witnessed.
I’m sure there is a powerful artistic message in there somewhere, but unfortunately I missed it. This adaptation will be best enjoyed by those who are already familiar with Kafka’s work, otherwise you may only be set up for complete mystification.
Ralf Wetzel & Lee Delong @ the Brighton Fringe
Who are the people behind the mask of ‘Absolutely Reliable’
The Mumble tracked down one of them to find out
Hello Ralf, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
Hi Mumble, I am German, living in Brussels, Belgium.
Can you tell us about your training?
My training? Throughout the last 5 years, I went through a heck of different trainings in Clown & Mask work, improvisation theatre and acting. My main teachers have been Keith Johnstone (CA), Lee Delong (F), Shawn Kinley (CA), John Turner (CA), Inbal Lori (IR) and Kelly Agathos (GR) & Ben Hartwig (D). Aside of that I am a trained electrician and I have a PhD in Organization Theory.
What is it about performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
It’s a moment of intense connection. Especially clown work made me aware of how thrilling being totally in the moment and drawing a strong connection between the emotionality of the audience and my own can be. Your body is ‘on’ with every cell. It’s addictive.
Can you tell us about your day job?
I am a Professor of Applied Arts at Vlerick Business School, Belgium. I teach topics like leadership, communication skills, change management and Design Thinking. All of that I teach on the pillars of Applied Improvisation, Clowning, enriched by the experiences I made with Social Dance like Lindy Hop and Argentine Tango. I discovered the power of Performing Arts for non-artistic environments like business or politics around 5 years ago. And since then, I took mind-sets, methodologies and exercises from Performing Arts and employed it in my classroom and with my clients. With mind-boggling results and impact. In that sense, I have the immense privilege to do Arts every day. And given my originally rather technical engineering background, its sheer fun, exiting, transforming and fulfilling. Today I am someone very different compared to 5 years ago.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
Oh. Having a cup of tea on my lap and staring out of the window for hours is all I need.
You’re performing at this year’s Brighton Fringe; can you tell us about the show?
“Absolutely Reliable!” is a solo mask show, in which George, a middle aged, middle class and middle manager, desperately longs for love, attention, confirmation and proximity by his beloved girlfriend Josephine. He is just not prepared to deal with it when it materializes. He realizes that he has to invest, commit and display himself with his own emotions, and that’s not what he is remotely capable of. So, his demons take over and throw him into a roller-coaster of love, desire, lust, fear, loss and death. It’s a mirror to modern day’s masculinity.
George, is a version of a prototypical western man based on … the traumas that alpha males face in a business world now shaped by the need to diversify workforces and for managers to be more empathetic. The character of George, a white, middle-aged, middle-class, middle manager [is] desperate for both promotion in his company and for a relationship in his personal life – a confronting experience Jonathan Moules, Financial Times
Where, when & why was “Absolutely Reliable” created?
It was actually created out of frustration. I was looking for improv and/or clown peers to start a troupe in Brussels and nothing was materializing. So I asked my clown teacher, award winning director and actress Lee Delong (Molieres 2019), whether she could imagine creating a solo clown show with me. And she could 😊 It all started when the mask which I am wearing in the show, hit me in one of her workshops. ‘You don’t choose a mask, the mask chooses you’ (Lee Delong), and that is what happened. As quick as I had it on my face, my full physicality changed, Ralf disappeared and someone else took stage. That was the moment when we said ‘okay’, let’s find out who this is. And so George appeared. Lee and myself worked several days together to get going. She provoked the mask and the character responded and revealed himself through my physicality. The scenes as they are appearing in the show are substantially based on those initial improvisations. The text I narrate is actually the slightly edited note of those improvisations. The show was produced through my body in combination with the mask, driven by the provocations and side-coaching of Lee.
What is the underlying message behind your show?
Ha! That’s difficult to say, since we didn’t sit down and said ‘Let’s do a show about XYZ’. We had the mask, we had the response of the character, my body and the improvised scenes. Lee then connected the different scenes and directed me in playing them. The mask certainly gave me permission to release deeply rooted inner fears and traumas as much as dreams and desires, that George displays and struggles with. But George is not me. The mask evokes things that are not me. And so the visible result is a meltdown of something which is me and something which is not. And mostly, I struggle with what is actually what. Given the topics of toxic masculinity and #metoo, George becomes a prototypical modern westernized man who is incapable to manage his emotions, to substantially open up to others, to make himself vulnerable. But overall, the message of the play is driven by the context in which you watch it. If you put the show into a different perspective, you see something different. We discovered that it’s like a prism. It will break light accordingly to how it is projected onto it. Masculinity is one angle, femininity might be another.
How are you finding working with director and co-writer Lee Delong?
It’s an experience that changed my life. Lee is extraordinary in how she sees the gold in the dust, she recognizes them in the smallest cues. She looks through your levels of fear and all your shields of protection, in a loving way. With decades of experience as actress, director and teacher, she challenges you to the bones and kicks your ass hard. But she knows exactly where your boundaries are, how far she can push. I feel challenged but safe in her hands at the same time. That allowed me a developmental journey throughout the last years far beyond my imagination. I had no idea how far that would go. And The result is amazing to me, every day.
George is the prototype of a modern man….an example of a man who may have conquered the universe but lost the battle against himself. And we cannot laugh at such a character, even when he is funny. Olga Vujovic (Kritikaz.com)
Its been 3 years since you performed the show at the Edinburgh Fringe. How has it evolved in that time?
After the strikingly positive reviews from the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Lee has mainly refined the existing play. We polished the story arc, brought in more tension and escalation and worked on the characters in the play. Especially Josephine, George’s subject of desire, has turned out to be much stronger than before.
In between, of course, was the Age of Covid. How did the pandemic affect as you as both an individual & a performer?
To me personally, it’s been a time of paralysis, anger and of being lost. Before, I have been overloading myself with work and extensive traveling. When travel and social contact was taken away, I had to realize that both, overwork and travel were just escape mechanisms of not facing myself being frustrated and unable to hold myself. So being trapped inside my 4 walls was dammed confronting. George, the character from the show, appeared several times in front of my inward eye and was waving from afar … Then my mother passed away, being isolated in lockdown herself, which just pushed me over the cliff. It took me months to reground, re-stabilize. With the clear decision of working and traveling less. Let’s see how long that holds ;). Lee and I continued working during the Covid lockdowns on-line to develop our new collaboration, The Heist, which we have now been able to complete in person and will open in the 2022 Zagreb Clown Festival.
Are you looking forward to visiting Brighton – any tourist plans while you are in the city?
Oh, you know, I am a sea ghost. I missed being on an ocean all the way through the pandemic and just being close to the water turns me into another human being. I can’t wait to have sea salt on my tongue and beach pebbles beneath my feet. I have wonderful improv friends in Brighton, who have been close to me during the pandemic and reuniting with them will be nourishing.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the “Absolutely Reliable” to somebody in the streets of Brighton, what would you say?
“Absolutely Reliable!” is a surreal show about how fucked up modern men are. It displays the deep anxieties and despair of male, in a funny, off beat, striking and tender way. Those anxieties have hardly been displayed that openly.”
Sweet @ The Poets
May 27-30 (16:15 – 17:30)
“It’s about feeling alive”. Music is a great many things to different people. For two aging and forgotten rockstars, it’s a chance at redemption, to set their lives back on the right track. Venture Wolf’s third production at the fringe finds the special effect that music has, and runs with the idea, allowing for some pretty strong emotions to surface. But with a confused script that feels more like a clash of ideas than a successful jam session, Vinyl Encore misses that special connection it was aiming for.
One morning, a guitarist for a modern hit-making band, Kieran Kurtz, finds himself in the house of 70’s cult rocker King A. The previous evening, the two had come together on a night out, both trying to chat up a record producer. As the haze of the morning clears, the producer’s promise is revealed – he’ll release a record for both of them, so long as they record it together. Instantly the battle of age and style is clear.
Playing King, AW King is completely believable as a rock star. He is a punk rocker whose lyrics are like psychedelic poetry. Kurtz, played more straight laced by Paul Vitty, is insecure about his talent as a guitarist, keen to play far more than just three chords in a song. The dream to work together is about as madcap as they come, but as the jamming begins the possibility starts to look quite attractive. Competent musicians, at first King’s lyrics don’t quite fit Vitty’s improv guitar, but there is a spark of something. Aping the heavy guitar rock sound of the White Stripes, and highly reminiscent of DIY punk, there’s potential here for excellence with some polish.
The problem with Vinyl Encore’s production is that it promises the two will get over their differences and end up creating something harmonious and unique, but they never do. The music never quite reaches brilliance, and the other elements of the script echo this. Unstructured, the dialogue can feel a little too improvisational sometimes, meaning that the lines crash into each other as much as the characters. Both musicians are clearly going through more personally than just a career slump, but the story beats don’t combine in such a way that the emotion can be felt. It’s not that they are unlikeable characters, in fact, they are quite relatable. It’s just that the convoluted and sometimes absurd nature of the script doesn’t allow for sufficient empathy to build.
An ominous knock at the door propels this production towards its conclusion, with a sense that something more slick could have achieved a far greater effect. Both Vitty and King bring the required emotion to their respective roles, and their passion for music is so clear. But in the end, they don’t quite manage to articulate why the music made them feel so alive.
theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall
12th-17th August 18:05
19th-24th August 19:05
Despite the rather over-gratuitous flyer, there is a lot more going on to B’Witches than a plastic doll with a big penis. The appendage has only a small part to play in what is in effect a four-way exhibition of dazzling acting & sparkling chemistry. The story is simple; there are three witches, one of whom has been turned into a Barbie doll by another, who was jealous about her seeing her ex. Its time to find a reversal spell, but just like Getafix in Asterix & the Magic Potion, there was a hitch. Camilla came back from her ‘plastic prison cell’ as a man. No better, then, than the deliciously camp Eden McDougall to play her. He was a total comedy trooper, as if the young Andy Bell had taken up acting instead of forming Erasure.
My favourite bit is when Camilla discovers she has a penis! We went charity shop hunting for my costumes and scared off a few of their customers with our in-shop catwalk display. Eden McDougall
Read the full interview…
The other two witches are Pili Vergara & Hannah Hughes, whose own cheeky personalities flourish through their parts of Rosa & D’Arcy, bringing levels of fresh reality to the play. Then there is Jack Thomas, who plays something of a narrator/master of ceremonies with a certain stylish dash. Their arena is the Outhouse, who have set up a gorgeous & intimate ’round’ of a space, & B’Witches use it superbly; flitting in & out of the seats, scurrying up onto perches – proper rubber balls of fun bounding through modern colloquialisms.
B’Witches is as jolly as a Restoration masque, & pleasantly short at about 40 minutes, while at all times they looked pure fabulous in their joyishly garish costumes straight out of the 1980s. Along the way we get to giggle off a carousel of alliances, killer-lines & cherry blossoms of the eponymous bitchiness. A lovely, fluffy affair, B’Witches will have you in stitches!
Damian Beeson Bullen
The Outhouse Bar
Aug 15-25 (14.00)
Assembly Rooms – Front Room
Aug 9-13, 15-24 (17:10)
William Hartley has drifted from the Clever Peter troupe into the legendary life of a cowboy called Roscoe ‘Blackjack’ Porter. It is time for a daring full-length celebration of Hartley’s talents as he conjures twenty-five characters & every western catchphrase in the lexicon to shine a light on Roscoe’s flailing world. The main character, it seems, has been dragged through the cacti backwards, oppressed by desperate thoughts, but is still smiling. From him, like kaleidoscopic shards of light, the other 24 parts are played through accent deviations, slight costume changes, & a puppet shaped like a cactus. Of the many parts, Roscoe’s brother, John, is the most important figure for the plot, a plainly noble family-man sheriff, whose polar opposite Roscoe tells us; ‘Its funny how you can have the same ma, the same pa, & more or less the same upbringing, but one of you turns out to be a prissy dic£head.”
A lot of the familiarity-friendly action takes place in the Mucky Donkey salon, where its, ‘outside for shooting, inside for drinking,’ with a brothel upstairs. When Roscoe frequents the brothel later in the play, the results are quite eye-opening to say the least. On another occasion the gatling gun turns up one of its first ever historical outings to the line, ‘there are a million ways to die in the West, but this one is best,’ which was actually a brilliant, out-of-the-box inclusion, I loved that. As for the rest, yeah, its good, proper buzzin’ in places, but the speed of character changes & the minimum of trappings which Hartley uses to blur our receptors is just a tad tricky to follow at times. Gun is, in all essence, a western comic strip for adults, brought to life with a gallop like a cowboy chasing a prize steer.
Damian Beeson Bullen
Expanding the Mumbleverse
The Mumble remain dedicated to their role as
The most progressive publication at the Fringe
Every Sunday I like to go to Stockbridge & buy a couple of pounds of my favorite grapes, which arrive there from Mauritius that morning. Chomping on a juicy handful last Sunday, I began making my way up through the New Town, arriving in the York Place area where the trams are. This is Stand country, & a few years ago was the epicentre of laughter in the Fringe. These days its all a bit like a weekday wake & might as well be out in Fife, for there has been a seismic shift to one Edinburgh street in particular – the sloping, cobbled thoroughfare between the Cowgate & the Bridges that is Blair Street. This is the real epicentre of Fringe comedy these days; where comedians, punters & flyerers mingle in a smiling Sunset Strip.
Things evolve, & the stranglehold The Stand had on making people pay for ‘safe’ mainstream comedy has been utterly smashed by the innovations of the Free Fringe & its quality, liberty-laden shows. All things change – I mean I’m actually writing this article on a speech-to-text app walking through Holyrood Park on the way into town. So if Fringe comedy can evolve, what about the ancient art of reviewing. Think of those Greeks who first stepped down from the Dionysis theatre during the reign of Pesistratus, who had just observed the very first play there from its seats, who have been babbling opinions & critiques to each other as soon as they left the hilltop. Criticism is as old as the performance art it observes, so how does its own evolution fare in 2019?
Well, not that much really. Beyond the windows of Mumble Towers, the Fringe Press of 2019 seems an archaic institution – chained to amateur rules dished out by a hereditary feudal demense, & a narrow luddite marking system which, even if the stars are split into halves, can only ever give a ‘marks out of ten’ assessment. But half-stars are an ugly aesthetic, a deformed evolution of the species. Like Darwin says, it’s not the biggest or the fastest that survives, but the one that adapts. If the five-star marking system is not to go extinct, it must evolve from its primitive 5-point Ape, through the Homo Erectus 10-point system of halves, & into something more suitable for an increasingly sophisticated modern world.
The trained reviewer can actually feel a show’s quality as 1,2,3,4,5 within moments of the start. So what are the intangible spirits that provide such an esoteric sensastion. Since 2016, the Mumble had identified three factors in each of its genres. For Comedy, we had Material, Delivery & Laughs; while for Theatre we had Stagecraft, Script & Performance. This was an improvement on the old system, where now in essence a score was obtained between 1 and 15, the Neanderthal if you will. As the Mumble went into the 2019 Fringe, we were still using this system, but have finally recognized there was still a certain imprecision to the scoring.
Under our old system, to obtain four stars, for example, a show needed to score 3.66 – which is simply closer to 4 than 3. The overall marks would then be described as a low four, a natural four or a high four. The eureka moment came the other day while sitting in two comedy shows. On one occasion I was the only one laughing, while at the other show the room was in uproar & I was sat stony-gilled. It was time to add that factor into the marking mix, the Room… how does a comedian play their audience, do they keep tickling funny bones like a comedy octopus, or is each viewer sat there playing on their phones.
Material: Delivery: Laughs: Room:
The Room category in Comedy has a natural cousin in Theatre. I have called it S.O.D, with the first review to use it being published yesterday (before this article). Quick off the mark, the company sent me this email;
We have asked our wonderful PR company; we have asked the amazing Pleasance Press Office; we have asked the astonishing Head of Programming at The Pleasance – no one can help.
We are delighted by our review by the excellent Daniel Donnelly, but no one seems to know what S.O.D. stands for!
Please can you elucidate?
(and I’ll get the prize for the first one home with the answer!)
The answer is, of course, Suspension of Disbelief. I know my poetry, & within Coleridge’s wonderful Biographia Literia, he elucidated on the driving phantasian spirit behind his co-creation of the Lyrical Ballads with Wordsworth. Its essence is the state of mind reached where there is, ‘a semblance of truth sufficient to procure for these shadows of imagination that willing suspension of disbelief for the moment, which constitutes poetic faith… awakening the mind’s attention from the lethargy of custom, and directing it to the loveliness and the wonders of the world before us.’ In modern lay terms its like switching off reality & becoming immersed in the production. Is that your mate Nigel before you? Do you see them behind the make-up, or are you lost in the drama & believe this drag-queen before you is the fabulous Nigella?
The introduction of another genome into the star system, the aforetitled Expansion of the Mumbleverse, seems wholly natural. Our planet is divided into four seasons, the main elements are still earth, fire, air & water. The four bodily humors were part of Shakespearean cosmology, inherited from the ancient Greek philosophers Aristotle, Hippocrates, and Galen. Ovid, in his Metamorphoses divided the Ages into Gold, Silver, Bronze, and Iron. Now the reviewing star system can also be divided into four harmonious parts. Marking-wise, to obtain those 4 stars, a show must now be awarded at least 3.75 points as opposed to 3.66. The overall marking goes like this
19-20 = 5 stars
15-18 = 4 stars
11-14 = 3 stars
7-10 = 2 stars
1-6 = 1 star
As cultural surveyors, The Mumble can now give a more detailed account of a show for both artist & potential audience member – its now a case of, “you need to sort your tiles out, pal, and there’s a bit of damp in your back bedroom – you’re wirings seen better days and of course you’re gonna have to update your boiler system, it’ll never pass the new laws.”
Damian Beeson Bullen
The Last King of Porn
The Last King of Porn is a play full of ambition. We are landed upon the set of a snuff porn film production. Tragedy, incest, lingerie and shadows are our themes. An Italian Stallion makes his final film, employing a hundred porn stars engaging in what they do behind a curtain, painting the action as silhouettes. Meanwhile, female porn stars wait for their number to be called for their turn.
This is where the drama unfolds, in the waiting room. The youngest of the cast discovers she had been conceived on the set of a vintage porno, back in the olden days when porn stars had a full bush. The film had starred tonight’s Italian stallion, who she was just about to be filmed being with! Her Dad! The plan is too snuff him out with a cyanide pill, and just for good measure finish the job with a pair of scissors – presumably to save the severed member as a token of a job well done.
Such a crazy story could live only in the world of porn. I tried to do it in the least aggressive way as possible. The play is for a mature public Alessandro Onorato
Read the full interview
With English not being the mother tongue of the cast members present, one cannot help thinking that the script would have been better portrayed in Italian with English subtitles. On second thoughts, one can only wonder what inspired such a sick & twisted concept of endemic violence. OK, we do have Oedipus, but that incest was done much more tastefully. But then again, is it even possible to approach the subject of porn, especially snuff porn, in a sensitive way? Maybe as an opera. Operas are full of this kind of tragedy.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert
The Last King of Porn
Greenside @ Infirmary Street
Aug 2-17 (21:50)