Fringe Physical Theatre

The Narrator

Zoo Southside

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five stars

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman

Pleasance

four stars

Dollhouse

Dance Base

four stars

Mary Brennan

GOING to extremes seems to be a default position for any work presented by the Spitfire Company, returning to the Fringe as part of the Czech Showcase 2017. In The Narrator, the most obvious extremes are the physical ones that French performer Cecile da Costa subjects herself to: standing cruciform, refusing to let her wrists buckle under the weight of hand-held bricks, totally immersing herself in a tank of water, then – still soaking wet – rolling over and over in a gritty sandpit. There are other scourging ways in which she takes her flesh and stamina to the limits, revealing the grief and guilt that constantly afflict her over her unborn children. Their loss seems connected to a murky past, else why would this tiny black-clad woman harrow her body with almost medieval acts of penance and purification, her voice keening with an intensity that on-stage musician Jan Sikl sends looping and echoing through his own atmospheric sound-score. Exposing her innermost secrets doesn’t, however, mean she forgives herself – even when she’s silent, her soul is howling.

Runs until August 27

TABOOS, especially those that society attaches to women’s status and behaviour, have always set Marisa Carnesky’s creative juices flowing. Her latest project is a further bravura episode in a series of transgressive performances where serious researches meet show-time glitz tinged with guignol dramatics and a whiff of carney sideshows. Now Dr Carnesky has turned her attention (and her PhD material) to the myths. moon-magic and physical facts of menstruation and – with five similarly frank and feisty Menstruants on-stage – she is celebrating the potent energies of women who bleed every month. If there’s a mischievous, tongue-in-cheek air to her performance-lecture, the humour is unerringly calculated to debunk the superstitions and misogynistic attitudes that demean menstruation as something distasteful, not to be spoken of in public. Carnesky’s witty, upfront riposte is that a woman’s menstrual cycle is the life-blood of all humankind, a positive affirmation that is given unstinting (and often gloriously naked) witness by the personal stories, re-enacted experiences and poetic rituals of the alt-cabaret performers who see, speak and show their red-bloodedness with powerful and affecting honesty.

Runs until August 28

ONE GLANCE at the messy clutter strewn across the studio floor has you thinking: is Bill Coleman really going to dance among this? Here’s a hint: Coleman’s performance hinges on him putting a foot wrong whenever he can, so that what looked like a hoarder’s stash of junk turns into a treacherous trap full of snaring wires, breaking glass and furniture that collapses at the merest touch. Coleman allows the opening scenes of mishap and mayhem to play out like a clown-comedy routine, and it is genuinely hilarious, though you do wonder if he’s risking injury, especially when he discards his shoes and socks. It’s this element of risk that the Canadian dance-maker, and his onstage compadre, avant-garde composer Gordon Monahan, have painstakingly crafted into Dollhouse so as audiences are kept suspended between laughter and disaster. As chaos laps around his toes, Coleman tap-dances while Monahan discovers the soundscape possibilities that hiss and bubble from a row of boiling saucepans. It’s life as we often choose to ignore it, and it’s performance as the experimental Stateside artists of the 60’s and 70’s began bringing on-stage, as a push’n’shove reminder to audiences to look around, and connect with the unpredictable stuff of everyday encounters. These guys are just masters of the unnerving surprises – let’s hope they survive to the end of the run.

Runs until August 27