It has begun. I squeezed in about 40 or 50 Fringe shows last year and I'll try to match that again, so I'll be slapping up some quick reviews here most days over the next few weeks. To start with, here's a Fringe show and a non-Fringe show (just to confuse you and perhaps earn your scorn for lack of consistency).
This week I saw two plays examining prostitution, which I think brings my tally of Plays I’ve Seen About Prostitution to a grand total of two. Both have merits, both have flaws.
By Brigid Dolan.
Brigid Dolan is definitely an early contender for the coveted Most Versatile Hair award at this year’s Fringe. I went along to her one-woman show after noticing that the dramaturgy had been provided by Peta Sargent, a fantastic live performer. Dolan actually has a resemblance to Sergant, although I don’t know if they’re related. Anyway, The Courtesan is pretty patchy but her hair really is superb.
The piece is based around Marie du Plessis, the 19th C. Parisian prostitute who was the basis for Nicole Kidman’s character in Moulin Rouge. Dolan clearly has a great affection for and fascination with du Plessis and doesn’t so much provide us with an objective biography as try to create a sense of the exotic world in which she moved and became such a spectacular public figure. She weaves in a few other threads, including a wonderfully unexpected moment of visceral horror following a mention of research between childhood sexual abuse and prostitution.
It’s billed in the Performance category of the Fringe this year but the show feels closer to dance and circus. Dolan’s physicality is very confident and she’s worked for years as a street performer which shows; I’d imagine she’s had a lot of dance training, too. She never stops tripping and spinning around the space (the show is performed in the round) and there’s some trapeze action in there too.
The show’s shortcomings may be a result of the performer being too enthralled by her subject; getting a writer or director on board would help bring together the disparate elements that make up the piece. It’s not a case of the performance lacking depth or breadth, more that it leaps and darts in different directions faster than its audience can comprehend.
Till Sunday at Bar Open.
THE CAT’S PAW
By Christine Croyden. Presented by Hoy Polloy.
Paul is a guy who has just seen the end of a relationship whose awfulness is matched only by his jacket. He hires a detective to go peep on his ex-wife and at the end of their meeting the gumshoe recommends a prostitute he should go spend some quality time with. As you can tell, there are some shady dealings afoot (or apaw) and Paul soon finds himself embroiled in an ugly culture of pimping and violence. He also finds himself in a strange kind of relationship with Bridget, the prostitute suggested by the PI, and their ambivalent connection provides the dramatic core of the piece. A couple of other streetwalkers provide a second tier of realism that’s not nearly as complex but extends the range of issues raised (drug problems, sadistic customers, the differences between working on the street and working privately).
For no good reason there’s also an angel overlooking proceedings and occasionally talking over people in an inexplicably Irish accent. No fault with the performer and it’s not like the character’s inclusion will have you balling your fists in unholy rage, but there were a few moments when I wanted to shoosh her for interrupting things. It’s a script problem, pure and simple. I’m not that big on Greek chorus-style characters anyway and angels are a pretty one-note form of magical realism, but that could just be my godless heathen self speaking.
Some of the play works really well – the dynamic between Bridget and Paul puts the audience in a very morally grey area and there are no clear-cut heroes or villains. There are also no pat solutions or simple definitions of problems. The bits that don’t work – the entire angel conceit, and one of the plot resolutions – could be cut from the text entirely, meaning that there’s half of a very good play here conjoined to half of a pretty average one. It’s like conjoined twins in real life, where one is always evil, I suppose.
I’d say the good triumphs over the bad, though, unlike real life, and this is definitely another production Hoy Polloy can add to the long list of interesting and thought-provoking pieces the company has been creating in more recent years.
Till Oct 3 at Carlton Courthouse.