Fringe Theatre

Unforgettable Girl

Beneath at Pleasance


Elisabeth Gunawan is an other-worldly performer. She’s funny, serene, bold, physical, ethereal, and thrilling – all at the same time. Unforgettable Girl is her abstract creation, one which dissects the veins connecting white privilege across the globe and centred on the concept of the ‘Mail Order Bride’ from Thailand. She demonstrates that she’s extraordinarily capable of all performance: movement, drama, comedy (to name a few), so it just makes me think this piece could be more than it is.

Gunawan emerges from an Amazon Prime box to start her show. This immediately pokes comment at the exploitation conglomerates let loose on the planet and shows just how attainable and commercialized women of colour are perceived to be in the Western World. It’s a brilliant way to set up the piece and Gunawan should have gone further with her comments here.

The audience participation she then embarks on is refreshing. We’re included in her world, told to make noisy responses when we feel the way she wants us to (‘Baaa!’ when we agree, for example). It’s similar to pantomime, an experience she counts on her “white middle class, or aspiring white middle class” audience to find comfort in. Her subversion of this works and I was ready to Baaa like a sheep on demand. Except, we never made these noises and were never prompted to. There were a few moments like this.

Gunawan has great jokes, writing and stage presence, but the whole piece feels disjointed and sets you up for expectations that don’t deliver. There are certain audio clips played over again that I wish she’d delved into more. The phone call between her and an interested ‘Mail Order Bride’ customer is funny, dark and makes your skin crawl. I wish this dynamic had been picked up again. The customer is played by her stage partner Kyll Anthony Thomas Cole. He has a t-shirt on labeling him a ‘Vagina Mechanic’, but he only functions as that once. It’s genius when he does – but it’s too brief! Like Gunawan, he’s funny and has great physical talent (catch his gymnastic skills in a random interlude), but he spends most of his time sat front row paying out the rope attached to her waist. They bounce off each other with relish and I think the piece could benefit from more use of their partnership.

Unforgettable Girl showcases Gunawan as an extraordinary talent. But it functions more like an episodic talent reel than a cohesive show. The final movement sequence is visually striking and, indeed, unforgettable, but I don’t know where it fits. The message of the piece pierces through, though, and it is an intelligent criticism of white privilege and its damning effects. It’s capable of more guts, more fierce wit, than just chants of Lulu Lemon and Oliver Bonas. It’s better than cliché. The show has potential to move your heart through your stomach – it’s just that the web Gunawan is weaving feels more ropey than gossamer right now.

Until August 28

Grace Sansom is working with The Herald for the duration of the Edinburgh Festival as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe's prestigious Emerging Critics Scheme