Edinburgh Fringe #FeministFaves 2018

Edinburgh Fringe is over for 2018, and thanks to the incredible supporters of our crowdfunder campaign, we made it to Edinburgh for the whole month this year, where we applied over 1000 stickers to posters of shows that passed the Bechdel test, recorded two new podcast episodes, and encountered more enthusiastic support for our mission to amplify under-represented voices than ever before.

 

 

 

Looking at this year’s Fringe line-up compared to the previous two years when we’ve visited, it’s becoming possible to believe a significant shift is being made in the overwhelming male-dominance in the festival (and the arts in general). This shouldn’t be viewed as a see-sawing movement, with men’s stories being sidelined by a reductive “year of the woman”, but one brick in the road on a journey to a more equal society, a cog in a movement that includes challenging all systems of privilege and oppression. The appetite for better representation on stage and the quality of work by the artists who fulfil that hunger has been proved by the sell-out runs achieved and awards received by many of the shows we’ve chosen to highlight here. The success of the artists whose work we saw at the Fringe are a solid foundation on which to build a theatre industry that consistently and genuinely values and reflects people from all of the communities who make up the UK and wider world. With a little more investment and commitment from the power-holders and the gatekeepers, and a lot more willingness to move aside more often from everyone currently steeped in privilege, we could be looking forward to full and permanent change.

 

However, the work is not done yet. Edinburgh Fringe, the festival which many see as a representation of the future of performing arts, and a doorway to opportunities for artists, is still hugely white, and overwhelmingly youthful, with stereotyping and tokenism rife on both theatre and comedy stages, with frequent instances of blatant racism in and around many performance spaces. This year, as ever, venue-owners have come under criticism for under-valuing and mistreating staff. Companies and producers are being called-out for prioritising sales and success over the well-being of artists. The under-representation of disabled artists is shocking, but not surprising, given the inaccessibility of Fringe venues for many disabled people. This is something which venues are working on improving at a glacial speed, often resorting to a one-off ‘accessible performance’ squeezed into an extra time-slot rather than treating this as a serious problem which goes against the “Fringe is for everyone” philosophy, and could in itself be an argument for restructuring the entire festival.

 

The shows we’re celebrating here are not the whole story. We shine a light on the positive examples of changes to the status quo in the hope that it will encourage artists to know they’re appreciated, as well as helping audiences find the shows they want to see. We want to see this work and more like it coming to more accessible, sustainable, and cost-effective spaces than the Fringe provides, and hope any programmers reading will notice something that looks like it might be what their audiences are looking for. We shout about the brilliance that we find when we looked beyond the sea of stale pale male faces staring us down from the poster-walls of Edinburgh, and will keep doing so until examples such as these are no longer notable.

 

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On a positive personal note, we can report that filtering the shows we see through a lens of ONLY watching Bechdel test passes, and prioritising seeking work by LGBTQ+ and POC artists, was as effective as ever at helping us find the shows that are making a thrilling and galvanising difference. We saw some astounding shows swimming against the tides of homogeneity and making art that reflects humanity in all its beauty, resilience, warmth, hilarity and complexity. In fact, our month ended up being so full of feminist theatre brilliance that it has truly been the biggest blogging struggle we’ve faced yet to choose our faves. We saw definitely many more excellent shows ace the Bechdel test than we have space to mention here, so make sure you take a look at our instagram & twitter for more highlights, and listen to our podcast for interviews with the artists behind some of these shows, and more favourite shows from our guests.

 

Finally, if you’ve been following our work this month, enjoying our recommendations, and would like us to be able to continue doing what we do all year round, you can now become a Bechdel Theatre Patreon. Support us with $1-$10 a month so we can keep up our work at Fringe and beyond, in return we will reward you with bonus content and ticket discount codes. Win-win.

 

On to the faves – in no particular order because WE LOVED THEM ALL!

 

 

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Queens of Sheba

 

An unflinching look at misogynoir (misogyny directed towards black women), this four-woman show does not shy away from the harsh realities faced by black women in Britain today, and raises up their voices to tell their own truths. Jessica Hagen’s joyously powerful poetic script integrates real-life women’s experiences with a collection of spectacularly harmonised well-known songs, in a series of tightly choreographed chapters, each set in a different environment where black women come up against discrimination, harassment, prejudice and violence.

 

In an hour that flies by, the audience are swept into several spaces, from an office, to a restaurant to a bar, each vividly conjured on an entirely empty stage by four completely compelling and versatile performers, each with their own unique personal dynamics, qualities and skills, all unified by the elegant and constantly engaging direction of Jessica Kaliisa and slick movement direction of Yassmin V Foster.

 

Queens of Sheba covers an extensive range of issues including colourism, stereotyping, fetishization, and microaggressions. The four queens on stage paint each example of misogynoir as a specific moment which affect individual women differently, but also clearly highlight the fact that all of these shared experiences of intersecting racism and sexism, from daily jibes from colleagues to headline-grabbing club-policies, are far too common and widespread to be dismissed as one-off incidents. Each chapter of Queens of Sheba is part of one massive societal problem: misogynoir, which is the responsibility of everyone with race and/or gender privilege to address.

 

We saw a preview of this show earlier in the year (you can listen to Michelle Barwood reviewing it on our podcast) when it was performed at Camden People’s Theatre, and the audience consisted predominantly of black women. Much of the content was received with audible recognition by the crowd.

 

Seeing the show in the Edinburgh environment, with a majority white and much more male audience, notably changed the way the play landed in the room. It felt like during Queens of Sheba’s Fringe run, the messages of the play were being absorbed more than recognised, with more of the crowd silently rapt and listening to learn, until the curtain call when the room erupted in a thunderous, impassioned, and seemingly never-ending standing ovation. We hope this play will continue to be seen by many more people: both by the black women who want to see their experiences of misogynoir articulated in front of an audience, and by the privileged people who have the power to stop it.

 

Queens of Sheba sold out its planned post-Edinburgh run at New Diorama, and have promised this is only the beginning of the show’s journey. Follow producers Nouveau Riche for future dates.

 

 

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Sparks

 

Jessica Butcher and Anoushka Lucas introduce this two-hander by saying they will both be playing the same person – Jessica using her words, and Anoushka using her keyboard. The two have collaborated as songwriter and playwright as well as performing in this show, but they don’t remain limited to their roles as singer/songwriter and actor/playwright, often performing in unison, their singing voices overlapping and intertwining, and with Lucas emerging from behind the keys to take centre stage during one particularly powerful moment.

 

Sparks is a collaboration of the finest kind – the women’s roles seem defined at the beginning of the show, but blur and flex as best serves the story that they’re telling. The harmony of their voices beautifully reflects the natural and intimate connection that obviously exists between them. Putting these two women together on stage playing the same role, different in their jobs, energy and presentation (Anoushka wears a blue sequin formal dress, Jessica wears a grey tracksuit) but so clearly in-sync, makes it easy for the audience to imagine that, despite the specifics details of her story and situation, this central character could be an ‘everyone’ ourselves, or someone we know. This potential for universality, along with both performers’ strong connection with the audience means that we’re deeply invested in the character, believing and empathising with every choice she makes: flaws, complications, and all.

 

This play does more than just showing us what grief can do to a person’s brain – it makes us feel its effects in our guts, as our chests tighten, and our throats close. It’s a play about grieving, so crying may be expected, but while we might have left the room with tears dripping from our chins into our coffee cup, Sparks just as effectively highlights the moments of illumination that are vital for healing from the death of a loved one: the unexpected lifelines that keep the bereaved afloat.

 

Sparks is special because it breathes life into an experience of death. It warms and heals us once it has dipped us in devastation for a moment, and we’re handed tiny bright badges with messages that say “I feel electric” and “I am alive” as we come out feeling the strength of togetherness more overwhelmingly than the dark emptiness of loss.

 

Follow Sparks on twitter for updates.

 

 

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Hot Brown Honey

 

This Australian cabaret super-group has featured heavily on our Edinburgh recommendations lists over the past couple of years as a flawless piece of pure feminist entertainment and education (see our feminist faves blog from last year), but the scale and passion of this year’s production on the biggest stage at The Gilded Balloon would be difficult to top.

 

Hot Brown Honey is simply the most empowering collection of cabaret acts we’ve ever seen. It’s put together by the most fearless and inspiring of women, who bring together their own unique identities, experiences, and incredible music, dance, circus, burlesque and comedy talents on stage to collectively shut down sexism, racism, colonialism, homophobia (and basically all the world’s worst things), with a cacophony of thunderous rallying-calls in which the audience are repeatedly offered to join.

 

Having chants like THE REVOLUTION CANNOT HAPPEN WITHOUT CHILDCARE, DON’T TOUCH MY HAIR, DECOLONIZE AND MOISTURIZE, and MAKE NOISE blasting out of one room and onto the streets every day would be a welcome addition to most cities, but at Edinburgh during the Fringe, where some of the world’s most privileged humans gather, and sexism, racism, and misogynoir are clearly still rife, every Hot Brown Honey poster feels like a reminder that you’re not alone in fighting against such things. Even outside of their show times, their frequent presence on the busy streets and bars of Edinburgh – always beautifully visible in their matching honeycomb tracksuits – act like a beacon for their fans and friends to gather around and create spaces filled with radical fierce love. Their spontaneous take-overs of the usually elitist-feeling members bar spaces, with Odette Mercy DJing to a suddenly alive and thriving dance-floor were an energy-boosting lifeline like no other as the intensity of the festival took its toll through the latter half of the month.

 

Hot Brown Honey will be sorely missed in Edinburgh next year, as they’ve declared this Fringe will be their last, but hope to see them continue touring the UK and the world spreading the powerful buzz of their hive.

 

Listen to our interview with Lisa Fa’alafi and Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg recorded during their Hive City Legacy project at The Roundhouse earlier this year.

 

Follow Hot Brown Honey on social media for updates.

 

 

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WHITE

 

Koko Brown uses her loop pedal to mix spoken word and song to tell stories from her experience of growing up mixed-race, from a Jamaican and Irish background. At the beginning of White Koko tells us that she wanted to write a play about race, but ended up writing about herself. This is indeed a very personal coming-of-age story, which takes us through moments in her life where she has come to realise things about herself that, deep down, she feels she always knew. It’s a specific personal story, detailing her relationship with her parents, and the traits she has inherited from both of them, as well as her experiences of feeling different from white friends, hearing herself being described as “the black girl”, her feelings about her hair, her discovery of Black Lives Matter. Each of these moments is unique to her, but there is plenty in her story that resonates heavily with the experiences of many other mixed-race people from different backgrounds.

 

Koko’s presence on the almost-empty and gorgeously-lit stage is so comfortable we feel like we could have been warmly welcomed into her living room. She makes the space so personally and intimately her own, that although she is telling stories of times when she or others have felt uncomfortable, or left out, we always felt at-ease in her audience. The depth and significance of her subject matter is made accessible (though never dumbed-down) by the gentle smile, relaxed shoulders, and natural humour of someone who believes in her own artistry as well as the importance of her story, and is ready and open about sharing it. This laid-back quality and lightness of touch makes her looping and rhyming seem as effortless as breathing, and when her voice soars in polyphonic harmony with herself, it seems to come so naturally to her as a means of expression that we get sucked completely into her world and her story. It’s not until we come out of the show, with her songs still floating in our minds, that we get a chance to gasp at the impressiveness of her craft.

 

Koko is an associate artist at Ovalhouse and is working on two more plays to sit alongside White in a colour trilogy: Pink, which will be about gender and Grey, about mental health.

 

Follow Koko on twitter for updates on future work.

 

 

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Fuck You Pay Me

 

Fuck You Pay Me is a love-letter to strippers created by Joana Nastari who writes from her own experiences and stars as Bea, a young woman whose shift is interrupted by constant texts and phone calls from her Catholic family, who have just discovered what her job is.

 

Joana’s writing ripples gently but powerfully with an easy fluidity, as she moves between styles: poetry, comedy, dialogue and direct address. The show’s dazzlingly engrossing immersive design mingles with Joana’s words, voice and physical presence in a way that magically transforms the atmosphere in the room from one scene to the next. We’re in a holy temple steeped in religious iconography dedicated to the hallowed strippers, who we are commanded to revere as Goddesses and Sex Witches. We’re in a club dressing room full of her vibrantly characterised colleagues chatting about their lives, sharing advice, cigarettes and gum. We’re on the dance floor of the strip club with its distinctive mingling of scents and thumping music, populated by a variety of customers including, regulars, awkward posh boys, and businessmen on work nights out, all of whom are brought to life with the kind of characterisation that only comes from observing real life with an expert eye for detail.

 

Throughout her interactions with customers in the bar, Joana illustrates Bea’s agency in making men believe they have power over her as her alter-ego ‘Holly’ who speaks with the voice of a child, but reassures with the comfort of a mother. When she breaks down this process calmly for us in her sure and steady adults voice, she could not be demonstrating more clearly her upper hand in the situation. She doesn’t deny that this job has downsides like any other – detailing the workaday boredoms and frustrations with bosses, hours, rules, and rude customers, all laughably familiar to anyone who has worked a job which requires emotional as well as physical labour (pretty much any customer service role).

 

The most powerful part of this show comes with the final scenes, in which we feel the character-layers of Bea and Holly melt away. Joana reads a poetic and heartfelt love-letter, overflowing with deep respect and admiration for strippers: the job they do, and the unity between them. This phenomenal woman who has commanded our undivided attention for a transcendental hour stands unwavering in her light-up platform heels, embodying all her roles at once: daughter, sister, friend, dedicated worker, and glamorous High Priestess, to become an activist holding a series of neon-pink placards that burn the play’s messages into our retina. The signs abandon the poetic imagery employed in the spoken-word sections of the play to tell us in no uncertain terms that STIGMA KILLS. We’re reminded that the phrase MY BODY MY CHOICE applies to everyone, including sex workers, that deadly stigma is the biggest difference between a sex worker’s job and many others, that we all know sex workers who have kept their jobs secret, and that if we respect women’s autonomy, we should make like good feminists and spend £££ in the strip club.

 

Listen to our podcast interview with Joana recorded in Edinburgh.

 

Follow FYPMshow on twitter to keep an eye out for post-fringe updates.

 

Fuck You Pay Me + Special Guests is coming to Rich Mix in London on September 21 and 22.

 

 

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Thrown by Jodi Gray

 

This innovative new production used a head-shaped microphone to create an unrivalled level of intimacy between its single performer and audience members. Writer Jodi Gray used real-life memories of older women to inspire an immersive piece of science fiction that’s at once futuristic and nostalgic, set in a world that’s both strange and uncannily familiar. The physical closeness we felt to actor Jill Rutland as she whispered directly into our ears via headphones worked brilliantly to evocatively bring to life this environment where nothing seemed definite except the voice in our ears. Her gentle comforting doctorly tones soothed us into accepting her baffling reality as our own minds seemed to become part of an experiment in her laboratory filled with memories set free from their original contexts to float in and out of minds like ideas.

 

Facing up to the ephemeral nature of the images we all carry in our minds can be a deeply unsettling experience, but it’s one that Jodi Gray leads us into delicately in Thrown, and we were grateful to spend some time in the pensive state that we found ourselves in after watching this thoughtful and subtly affecting play.

 

Keep an eye on Jodi Gray’s website for more upcoming work.

 

 

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Funeral Flowers

Emma Dennis-Edwards is a revelation playing Angelique in her own play about a young woman who struggles against a series of horrible circumstances, finding solace and purpose in taking flower-arranging after her mother is taken to prison, and her peers have brutally betrayed her.

 

It’s not easy to watch this charismatic girl, filled hopeful positivity and smart confidence be ground down slowly like a petal being crushed. But unlike a petal, Angelique never seems irretrievably broken – she bounces back often, smoothing back the creases and tears in the fabric of her support system with resilience and determination, trying her best to trust everyone around her.

 

Despite her bright and sunny demeanor Angelique is not perfect in her behaviour, and is no wilting victim. She’s filled with a deeply human and very understandable rage at her male abusers, which she takes out on a caregiver, who she knows is unlikely to fight her back. Heartbreaking in its sudden and brutal childishness, this explosive attack emphasises the fact that Angelique is a very young and vulnerable woman, still on the cusp of childhood, who has already been so badly let down by so many people more powerful than her that she lashes out at the nearest authority figure around.

 

As we leave the poky flat in which Funeral Flowers was performed in immersive promenade-style, we’re left crossing our fingers that the next chapter in life will be better for this character. We’re also crossing our fingers that the multitude of awards the play has won will give it the opportunity to be staged again beyond the limitations of a student company at the fringe. We would love to see this show return in a space where more people will be able to witness and appreciate Emma’s astonishing performance, and don’t doubt that bigger budget production would better serve this truly excellent piece of writing, acting and directing.

 

Follow Emma Dennis-Edwards on twitter to keep an eye out for what she does next.

 

 

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Dragprov Revue

 

We were happy to stretch the limits of the Bechdel test to include these two super-talented improvisers. Drag King Christian Adore and Queen Eaton Messe are best pals on a mission to create a drag show that’s different every night, and appeals to all the family. When we saw the show it was indeed packed to the rafters with people of a range of ages and genders, all of whom were involved in helping craft an uproariously original one-off show, filled with quick jokes, hilarious physical gags, and some sublime vocal harmonising.

 

This was a drag show with a unique twist, and an improv show like no other, and we’d recommend it to anyone who has reservations about either, as well as to anyone who’s a big fan of both.

 

Follow Christian Adore for future performance dates.

 

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Ladykiller

 

Ladykiller is a rarity in many ways: a feminist play in which the leading woman is the perpetrator rather than the victim of violence, a representation of a genuinely complex (to the point of inscrutable) female anti-hero, and a dark comedy that really lives up to its marketing promise of chills alongside every laugh. The laughs in Ladykiller come at the expense of the audience – we laugh at our own preconceptions, our naivety, our (very gendered) assumptions. Hannah McLean (playing the sinisterly-named hotel chambermaid: Her) holds the audience’s expectations and judgements like a world-class puppeteer manipulating a marionette, twisting us one way and the next with a light touch here, and a sudden jerk there, putting us all on the spot as the subjects of our own nervous giggles when we realise we have underestimated or been taken in by Her.

 

The genius of Ladykiller is in its multiple twists, but the success of it lies in its execution. The pointed eye-contact from Her, often lingering and very unsettling in the enclosed bunker space at Pleasance, puts this character firmly in the driving seat of her story. Madelaine Moore’s concise directing ensures that every audience-member feels Her unnerving gaze more than once. Her eyes dart quickly at the beginning (is this character fearful or excited?) and then, as she settles in, start to drift cool and shark-like from one of us to the next. The effect of this precisely controlled level of audience contact is that despite being the butt of the jokes, and constantly addressed in the room, we didn’t feel publicly exposed by any of Her pointed comments, looks, and calling out of our preconceptions. Instead, we are left stewing thoughtfully in our own discomfort in a way that affects our internal rhythm just enough to make us reconsider the snap judgements we make about the people around us in day-to-day life.

 

The Thelmas, producers of Ladykiller, are undoubtedly a company who are making a great big feminist mark for themselves. They’re fresh from a successful tour of Coconut, which (although it dealt with a very different subject matter) featured a similarly multi-layered narrative, in which all is not as it first seems, and a fantastically well-developed female characters taking centre stage.

 

Ladykiller will play at The Pleasance in London Nov 20 – Dec 2.

 

Follow The Thelmas on social media to keep up-to-date with their work.

 

 

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Skin A Cat

 

We loved this show when it premiered in London to critical acclaim and intensely passionate audience responses. A growing legion of fans have seen something of themselves in Isley Lynn’s autobiographical play about her journey to embracing her own body and sexuality. The script is treasured by people who saw it at Vault Festival or The Bunker, and even well-thumbed by those who haven’t had a chance to watch it in performance yet, so it’s safe to say that the Edinburgh run and tour of this show were HOTLY anticipated.  

 

In this production original cast member Lydia Larson returns to play the leading character of Alana, a role that she embodies so naturally that it’s hard to believe it is Isley Lynn’s story and not her own. She’s recently been joined by new cast members Libby Rodliffe and Joe Eyre, who play all of the other characters in Alana’s life: her mother, her best friends, doctors, therapists, and various lovers. Both actors show extraordinary range, in particular Libby Rodliffe’s switches are seamlessly smooth, from the awkward mother who struggles to communicate with her daughter, to the rambunctious university pal full of cringe-worthy comments about her sexual conquests, to the down-to-earth doctor who helps Alana to come to love and understand her own body.

 

The new cast of Skin A Cat have a bond that seems as deep as the material is frank, bound together by Isley Lynn’s writing and Blythe Stewart’s direction, their energy and intimate connections with each other flourishes despite the vast blue shipping container space that they’ve been placed in for their fringe run. Their ability to adapt to the space in Edinburgh shows that this play and its team are versatile as well as boundlessly talented and committed to telling this important story.

 

Skin A Cat will be touring in the Autumn. Follow Rive Productions and keep your eyes out for dates and locations soon.

 

 

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Finding Fassbender

 

We know Lydia Larson can raise chuckles and tears in equal measures thanks to her sterling work in Skin A Cat. In Finding Fassbender, her first self-penned show (also directed by Skin A Cat’s Blythe Stewart) she reveals the originality of her imagination and the creative panache of her writing as well as her skill for accents and comedy characters. This story takes several surprising (and some terrifically surreal) twists, with laughs that build to a bubbling crescendo, and a central character who wins our affection immediately and our admiration by the end.

 

Finding Fassbender’s central character Eve is a the kind of woman who is rarely seen on stage, let alone as a protagonist in her own story: she’s quiet and conservative in her habits and expectations, avoids being the centre of attention, and has never looked beyond her small family and community in Wolverhampton, until one day when she hesitantly accepts an offer to transfer to the London branch of the call centre where she works.

 

Like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz she steps off the train into her new world in a cloud of trepidation lined with bright curiosity, facing a series of challenges and meeting some interesting friends along the way, each of whom Larson brings to life with a brilliant array of accents and mannerisms, always returning to her own brightly dulcet Wolves native accent to voice Eve.

 

As in The Wizard of Oz, the titular character in Finding Fassbender is not the focus of the plot, but a device that drives our heroine on a journey of self-discovery. Unlike The Wizard of Oz, this heroine is in her 30s: this is less of a coming-of-age story and more a coming-of-life story. Eve is no naive teenager discovering her identity, she’s an adult woman who knows what she wants on a day-to-day basis and can look after herself very well, thank you. But, like many of her generation she’s reached her third decade without ever being sure of what direction she wants to take for the rest of her life, and hasn’t yet had the chance to push herself, test her limits and find her true desires.

 

In a festival crammed with female stories focussed around trauma – featuring a lot of #metoo and mental-health related struggles (many, of course, sharing experiences that are important to see reflected) watching Finding Fassbender is a refreshing relief. We were delighted to settle into our seats to hear a story that, while not without emotional depth and poignancy, is mostly a celebration of a woman’s realisation of her own potential through a unique zig-zaggy path that’s filled to the brim with oddball humour (including some of the best puns we heard outside of the Fringe’s comedy programme) and ultimately affirming positivity.

 

Follow Lydia Larson on twitter to see what she does next.

 

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Pickle Jar

 

Maddie Rice had our stomachs twisted in knots by the end of this play about a teacher whose life becomes intertwined with her students. In Pickle Jar she has written herself the perfect role to show her versatility, subtlety and comic flair as an actor at the same time as exploring vital issues around rape culture, and the consuming feelings of guilt and blame around sexual assault.

 

Follow Maddie Rice to find out more.

 

 

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Clingfilm

 

Plunge returned to Edinburgh after the success of their last show, Private View, to take the Fringe by storm with a musical comedy that mingles dazzlingly poppy tunes and colours with with socio-cultural observational comedy and a tongue-in-cheek tendency for self-parody that reminds us of the musical sitcom Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (Plunge have even made a couple of hilarious music videos that go along with this show if you want to re-live the fun at home).

 

Clingfilm sees the eternally sequin-clad trio exploring what happens when a Pole, a Turk, and a Brit sit next to each other at the funeral of their old university lecturer. They affectionately tease each other, take it in turns to don a ridiculous wig to play a vicar, sing enormously catchy tunes, and generally occupy the back pew of the church like the coolest kids in school did the back seat of the bus – except when it comes to a Plunge show, everyone in the room is allowed to sit with them.

 

The depth in this piece comes when each of the women deliver their own internal monologues giving an insight into their own individual identities behind the all-for-one girl-band group dynamic. Tutku, Izabella and Lily play characters in Clingfilm, but ones that share the performers’ backgrounds, accents, and mannerisms so it’s easy to imagine that there are more than a few threads of truth in their characterisation, and it’s obvious that their mutually-supportive relationship as a group, and their cheerfully sibling-esque jibing at each other is based firmly in reality – you can’t fake this kind of bonding. It’s this closeness to their subject matter that gives their monologues real authenticity and keeps us rapt with attention even during these more intimate and less flashy moments of the show.

 

Plunge give us proper friendship goals, sisterly in everything except their wildly different backgrounds they’re a living demonstration of how Millennials can thrive if we redefine the parameters of family and community to include the friends with whom we share a sense of humour and outlook on life as well as those with whom we share an upbringing, religion or language.

 

Follow Plunge to stay up-to-date with their work.

 

 

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It’s True, It’s True, It’s True

 

We underestimated the extremely physical emotional response that would arise in our bodies while watching Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True. Reading the description of a “re-staging of an Italian rape trial from 1612”, we wrongly assumed that the distance of several centuries from the story would allow us to critically assess the errors of the court, look at the evidence of rape culture at work, and compare this historical account of a rape trial with the accounts we hear today from people who have gone through the process of reporting rape and sexual assault. We thought this might be a space to interrogate intellectually how the vein of misogyny has been allowed to flow so freely throughout so many societies and across generations when it comes to letting rapists commit and get away with their violence.

 

If there was an intellectual analysis of rape culture happening in the room, it was not happening inside our heads. We were filled with too many feelings. We felt the hot rage of injustice as Ellice Stevens’ Artemisia Gentileschi was shamed, slandered, and betrayed. We felt the esophagus-closing, tooth-grinding, toe-clenching tension of recognition as the people close to her contradicted her word and questioned whether she had invited the attentions of her painting tutor. Artemisia’s tutor and rapist, Agostino Tassi, was played with such nonchalant brutality and simmering volatility by Sophie Steer that we had to sit on our hands to stop ourselves from throwing our hot drinks at her. She so confidently wore Agostino’s chillingly familiar predatorial expression on her face that it was genuinely a struggle to control our fight or flight instincts and stay sat in the front row like polite audience members.

 

As the trial went on, and Artemisia was subjected to further violations – stripped, physically probed, and tortured – we felt a ballooning sense of helplessness. Our bodies becoming light and inconsequential, we were being swept into the distance, unable to reach out to Artemisia as she was left on the stage, weighed down in her body which had been so horribly abused.

 

When Artemisia told us of her return to painting we felt a rush of blood to our heads bring us back into the room with her. We felt hungry as she described in violent graphic detail the tale of Judith beheading Holofernes: the concerted effort that she imagined Judith making to cut through the throat, the sinew and the bones in his neck. When she told us how she painted the scene over and over and became a huge success, we felt a rumbling of renewed energy, like a tingling followed by the beginnings of a small earthquake in all of our muscles.

 

Finally, we felt a slow-motion burst of catharsis, exploding out of our faces in smiles, tears, and snot as Patti Smith’s Gloria lifted us up to our feet, ready to fight, to join forces with, to protect, and avenge Artemisia’s of the past and future. Rather than having a distancing effect, the examination of this trial from so long ago had a uniting effect on us – bringing us as close as someone can possibly feel to a woman who lived 400 years ago. Because for anyone who has been raped or sexually assaulted, or lives in constant fear and wariness of it, rape is rape, and the real presence of it in our lives means that it can never be an intellectual or historical issue.

 

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is running at New Diorama Theatre in London, Oct 16 – Nov 10.

 

Follow Breach Theatre for updates on this and other productions.

 

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Love Songs

 

Alissa Anne Juen Yi, the writer and performer of Love Songs, welcomes her audience into her cosy bubble-gum hued space, enveloping us in the intimate and private atmosphere of a young woman’s bedroom before the show has even begun, and establishing the lack of a fourth wall with a gentle sensitivity and genuinely beaming smile.

 

As we made our way onto the front row, Alissa asked if we’d like to be volunteers to help her tell her story or if we’d rather not, with the most unpressured approach we’ve ever experienced from a performer seeking audience interaction. We watched the show on the day of a relaxed performance so this was further enhanced with sheets handed out detailing plot points where potential triggering subjects, moments of emotional intensity or loud noises, for anyone who needed to prepare themselves to brace or perhaps leave (and if we did choose to leave, Alissa let us know, we would always be welcome to return at any time). These acts of care for her audience were reassuring, and vital for creating the right kind of respectful and well-boundaried dialogue between everyone in the room, as Alissa was about to embark on telling us an incredibly personal and raw story of having her romantic idealism taken advantage of and challenged by an experience of sexual assault.

 

Telling her story, and helping others to feel less alone in having experiences similar to hers, seems like it is part of Alissa’s own healing process. Although the events of the show seem painfully recent, her sunny presence on stage has us all laughing along with her at her own cringey teenage poetry as though we were having a cosy night in reminiscing with an old friend. It reminds us that an experience like hers, though deeply traumatic, is not at all unusual and shouldn’t something that shame or embarrassment stop us from talking about, and that ensuring safe circumstances to discuss such experiences is a shared responsibility between everyone in the room.

 

Alissa describes her relationship with her best friend, the strength that she found through bonding over their similarities and differences, how she grew as a person as they grew closer as women, and it feels as though Alissa herself is playing this best-friend role for us in her audience. An example of a relatable survivor who shows us the importance of valuing your own well-being, healing, and learning to love yourself instead of trying to be liked by everyone else.

 

Alissa’s generosity in sharing her recovery process with her audience seems like a natural act of friendship, as instinctive as opening your door to a pal who needs company and comfort, and we think that for anyone who has anything in common with Alissa: young Millennials and recent graduates, mixed-race and British East-Asian women, and especially anyone who shared a #metoo story, would benefit from spending an hour with her (and having a hug with her at the end of it). If this show returns to the stage soon, go, bring a trusted friend, and make sure you schedule an hour or so of downtime and a joyful playlist of love songs to listen to afterwards.

 

Listen to our podcast interview with Alissa, recorded in Edinburgh.

 

Follow Trip Hazards for future production announcements.

 

 

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Elf Lyons: ChiffChaff

 

The Queen of Clown and possibly the youngest artist to be justifiably called a “Fringe veteran” is back, with this gloriously self-referential piece of comic brilliance. At the top of the show, Elf gives us a brief lecture-style intro where she breaks down the structure of what she’s about to do in the show. She then makes a quick-change and establishes herself as a ditzy Sally Bowles inspired character, quickly conjuring a silly vacuous stereotype of kooky-artsy-femininity with her short sparkly dress, perky American accent and manic-pixie-dream-girl doe-eyed expression. However, no sooner has she established this character and successfully sparked an ‘aww’ reaction in our brains, than she embarks on an energetic giggle-filled hour of challenging the idea (which we’ve all been fed by society) that as a young woman, an artist, and a dyslexic, topics like economics should be naturally beyond her comprehension.

 

In ChiffChaff, Elf Lyons becomes an intrepid explorer, overcoming the female-entertainer stereotypes she parodies, and the unconventional way that her brain interprets the world, to learn everything about economics that she can glean from her adorably patient, dryly humorous, brainbox of a father. Elf’s Dad is a real-life economist whose voice we hear answering her many questions via recordings, which she looks up to listen to as though hearing the meaning of life being explained for the hundredth time by a kindly, omniscient, and fairly opinionated God-type.

 

Through moments of sublimely silly physical comedy – highlights were a mime representing the concept of Quantative Easing, and a never-seen-before method of eating a banana, Elf takes us on a stupendously fun journey. When we booked to see her show, we knew we were in for a chuckle, but could never have anticipated the rate at which the laughs would come. Not until we found ourselves hurtling with aching cheeks towards understanding not just hugely important economic theories, practices, and their significant impact on real-lives, but also her own mind. We got a fascinating and beautifully affirming insight into how Elf approaches understanding and interpreting her father’s area of expertise for herself, throwing society’s expectations of her abilities aside, like one of the many toys that she uses masterfully as props, but ultimately does not need to make us love her.

 

Make sure you catch Elf Lyons in a town near you whenever you can, and leave your preconceptions at the door, because however high your expectations are, nothing will be able to prepare you for the unique joy of sharing a space with such a magnificently generous and marvellously talented performer.

 

Check Elf’s website for more chances to see her soon.

 

 

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Evelyn Mok

 

The assured stage-presence that we admired in Evelyn Mok’s debut show last year has continued to develop, as she seems to grow ever more comfortable making her audience bubble with laughter at things that we would normally recoil from – and encouraging us to investigate our own instinct to giggle.

 

In this year’s discomforting analysis of a nasty experience of fetishisation and child grooming, Evelyn wields her jokes like weapons against the patriarchy, racism, and sexual predators. She enables us laugh in the face of such awful things because we see them from her perspective. Her exploration of her experiences, in a space which she absolutely owns, allows us to finds a new funny side to the worst aspects of humanity by seeing them through the lens of her trademark tension-filled humour.  

 

Follow Evelyn Mok to find out when you can see her next.

 

 

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Woke

 

Apphia Campbell’s tour-de-force portrayal of Black Panther Assata Shakur and college student discovering her legacy returned this year after making a big impact at Fringe 2017. The delicate unfolding of these two women’s powerful stories is a a deeply inspirational tale of activism in two eras peppered throughout with exquisitely performed blues and gospel songs. More than just telling two important stories, Woke is a masterclass in solo performance: Apphia Campbell’s subtle transitions between playing both women is a wonder to behold and an absolute must-see for activists and actors.

 

Apphia Campbell is currently touring Woke, along with her other critically-acclaimed solo show about Nina Simone: Black Is The Colour Of My Voice. Check her website for dates.

 

 

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Trojan Horse

 

Trojan Horse offers a new perspective on the 2014 news story surrounding allegations of radicalisation taking place in Birmingham schools. Documentary theatre company Lung use verbatim text from interviews with people directly affected by the story alongside dramatised scenes taking place within a school, surrounding streets, homes, and courtrooms during the fallout of the accusations.

 

The monologues compiled from interviews, courtroom reconstructions, and sensitively staged scenes based on real people’s lives all come together to build a strong case against Michael Gove as the Education Minister who seems to have targeted Muslim families in a grossly transparent and clumsily plotted set-up. This included sensationalist allegations detailed in an anonymous letter which (despite being full of unverified claims) was featured heavily in the media, with politicians fretting in grave tones about the perceived risk that Muslim teachers pose to their students, and that “radicalised” students could pose to the public in turn.  

 

In their production of Trojan Horse at Summerhall, Lung’s set consisted of small school desks and a chalkboard, which, like the entire cast, remained on stage throughout. This familiar furniture, and the actors in their scruffy school uniforms, were an ever-present reminder of the youth of the people most badly affected and stigmatised by the publicity around the ‘Trojan Horse’ scandal. As their school was transformed, desks dragged into formation to represent the adult spaces of courtrooms and offices, actors throwing on scarves or jackets to play adult characters, we couldn’t help but keep the children of this story at the forefront of our minds. School children were deemed terrorists-in-training by Islamophobic tabloids. Muslim kids lost their right to be regarded as innocents, their opportunities narrowed as their schools came under scrutiny at crucial points in their education, all while in hideous irony Politicians claimed to be motivated by concern for their welfare.

 

The use of scene titles in this show, handwritten hastily on a blackboard in chalk, did more than just communicate the setting of each scene; it worked to imbue every chapter of the story with increasing urgency as each one seemed scribbled faster than the last. The titles also emphasised that this play is more than a story; it’s a record of real occurrences, a document of great importance, revealing the personal truths behind the headlines, and the lasting damage done by a politician’s scramble to be seen as “tackling terrorism”.

 

The writers of Trojan Horse give over a huge chunk of the play’s text to verbatim testimonies of the teachers and governors directly impacted by the allegations, and their perspective shines a light on just how much appalling damage was done to real people’s lives when they became collateral in the UK government’s mission to convince the public that they were clamping down on the causes of terrorism.

 

However, it was the classroom scenes, presumably staged based on accounts from teachers and students, which grasped at our hearts with the strongest emotional tug. The teenage girls featured in Trojan Horse are still on the cusp of child and adulthood. In their classroom we see them bonding with each other, asking their teachers for advice, deciding what to keep private and what to talk about.

 

The actors multi-roling throughout the play are good as adults: switching accents and mannerisms as easily as they change their scarves and jackets, but they are astounding when it comes to playing the young girls, and we believe in them with every facet of our being. It’s in the moments between these girls that we’re reminded of the sensitivity of that time of life, the sanctuary which a classroom can provide, and the delicate balance which can tip a kid over from feeling confident and curious and teaching them to feel shame and fear. Watching the experiences of the children in Trojan Horse, and knowing that it’s all based on truth, we’re tipped from feeling outraged to feeling furious. Furious that this happened in 2014, and that the government continues to enforce the Prevent strategy, which puts Muslim children and parents under surveillance, requiring trusted figures like teachers and doctors to report on ‘signs of radicalisation’ (such as an interest in religion) in children as young as nursery age.

 

Keep an eye on Lung Theatre for announcement of the Autumn tour of Trojan Horse.

 

 

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Egg: Richard Pictures

 

We laughed just reading the title of this show, and have loved Egg for a while, so had very high expectations for diaphragm-damaging LOLs during Richard Pictures. Readers, our hopes were well and truly exceeded, and possibly not matched during the rest of the Fringe. From the moment they first clock the audience with a knowing side-eye, to the moment when they appeared in their robes with their faces contorted in bitter rivalry as twin spirit-medium sisters, we always felt we were in the presence of accomplished performers who kept their audience in the palm of their hands with such ease that they could allow themselves to keep playing and occasionally making each other laugh, as well as their audience.

 

Emily Lloyd-Saini and Anna Long-Borphy, combine to make Egg, and they’re quite simply a match made in comedy heaven. Their rapport fizzes with a healthy balance of competitive comedic instincts and true BFF love. They bounce off each other continuously and with such vibrancy that each sketch felt fresh and surprising, even though we caught them halfway through their run in an undersized (and over-stuffed) sweaty basement, and had seen a couple of their best signature sketches before (the toilet-paper bit literally NEVER gets old).

 

Their sketches, which range from oh-so-close-to-reality observations to disbelief-suspending weirdness, are deftly woven together with interlinking themes, sharp call-backs, and frequent dollops of ridicule in the direction of audiences and critics who often want to put them in boxes based on gender or race.   

 

We particularly enjoyed the digs at men hitting on women in wildly inappropriate (but horrifyingly plausible) situations. With their chat-up lines as bad as the wigs that Anna and Emily took turns to wear to send them up, we couldn’t help but imagine that real men have used them, and hope that such guys recognise themselves enough to cringe if they ever find themselves in Egg’s audience.

 

Watching these heroes of feminist wit in action raises a special sort of unifying laughter: it’s the kind of unbridled tears-in-your-eyes hysteria that comes from sharing a round of particularly stupid things-white-guys-said-to-us stories with a room full of best mates, only bigger and louder, because there are 50 of us in on the same joke.

 

Follow Egg Comedy for future gigs.

 

 

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The LOL Word

 

This comedy collective of queer women and non-binary comedians have been holding monthly nights in London for a while now, and have built up a reliable reputation as THE night to go to if you prefer to laugh in an environment where you can giggle freely with the level of blissful abandon that comes from knowing that the next act on the bill won’t be sexist and/or LGBTQphobic.

 

The LOL Word’s nightly Edinburgh show took place in the most fringest of all the fringe spaces – a living room above a bar without a sign, in which their audience was packed so tightly that the stage space consisted of about 2 feet square and was surrounded on all sides by cross-legged audience members hugging their knees, squeezing into every inch of space, and a few unlucky latecomers turned away at the door. The lack of space in this venue was cold, hard (actually – warm and quite squidgy) evidence that there’s a sizeable audience hungry for jokes by queer women and non-binary people. In case us just asking for it it wasn’t enough.

 

As well as presenting a reliably rib-tickling selection of performances from their own virtuoso LOL Word original team every night they always feature at least one guest performer on the bill.

 

On the evening we visited, Chloe Green (one of the LOL Word originals) kicked off the night with a quickfire stream of jokes that bounce pleasingly around a wide field of lefty feminist crowd-winning topics, ranging from queer dating problems to Jeremy Corbyn’s tweets. 

Chloe’s jabs at her boss are served with a wry wink that makes us feel like we’re in with the naughty crowd at school, while her dissection of the practical considerations behind a lesbian oil party is delivered in such a disarmingly sweet and down-to-earth tone that we’re sure we’d still have been laughing just as delightedly if our Mums had been sat next to us.  Her range is broad and her punchlines land rapidly, but it’s the cheeky glint in her eye that makes us want to see more of her work in future.

 

The first guest on the bill was one of our firm-favourite stand-ups, the consistently fabulous Sophie Duker. Sophie’s playfully irreverent takes on people’s reactions to her identity as a ‘triple threat minority’ and her curiously probing investigation into the weird world of self-identified posh-people in the audience at The LOL Word was an awesome trailer for both of her Fringe shows: her shared-bill of woke-folk friendly laughs with Lulu Popplewell called DukePop, and her own riotously righteous night of POC comedy, the ingeniously named Wacky Racists, the latter of which she hosts regularly in London and continually fills us with hope for a future of stand-up without the dominance of white guys.

 

The second guest we saw was Saba Husain whose idea for a Kylie Minogue-inspired musical was tucked so neatly into her weirdly endearing takedown of Malala Yousafzai that we didn’t see the punchlines coming until we were doubled over with laughter.

 

As if this stellar line-up wasn’t enough to satiate our love of The LOL Word team, we also found time to check out Jodie Mitchell’s set as half of a shared-bill with impressively chameleon-esque character comic Cam Spence. In yet another packed-out room at Banshee Labyrinth we happily revisited a highlight joke of Jodie’s signature imaginative style – a multi-layered fable of agreeably camp talking birds and tampons. We actually laughed harder at this part the second (or maybe even third) time we heard it, with the dizzy anticipation of riding a rollercoaster twice and delighting in the speed with which the story snowballs into strangeness. We also relished the chance she got in this longer set to delve deeper into her dark interpretation of the Teletubbies, and her surreal re-imagining of a working-class childhood spent smeared in potato smileys designed to lure Katie Hopkins.

 

Jodie’s singular skill for finding the fantastical flipside to everyday observations translated seamlessly between audiences: she won over a midday room of free-fringe punters who presumably weren’t already part of her dedicated LOL Word following, and undoubtedly left them adoring her with almost the same affection as those of us who have already declared ourselves full-on fangirls. We’re looking forward to seeing an hour-long show from this obvious superstar in future, and spending many more joyful nights with all of the LOL Word comics.

 

Follow The LOL Word and sign up for their mailing list to make sure you never miss their London shows.      

 

Sophie Duker’s Wacky Racists night takes place regularly in London.

 

 

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(even) HOTTER

 

Performance duo Mary Higgins and Ell Potter combined their surnames to create HOTTER: a project in which they interviewed cis women and trans people between the ages of 11 and 97 about what gets them hot, in a bid to create a piece of theatre about the moments when our bodies physically react in a way that betrays our innermost feelings, whether that be sexual attraction, embarrassment, or both.

 

Mary and Ell initially used the interviews to create a verbatim show called HOTTER, which had a run at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe – (even) HOTTER is the story behind that show, in which they dig deeper to interrogate their relationships with their own bodies, sexuality, and each other, and unpack their attitudes and responsibility towards the subjects of their interviews.

 

You don’t need to have seen HOTTER to revel in the unravelling of it in (even) HOTTER, as all is explained through their delightfully unpretentious self-referential conversations with the audience and each other. Watching this show feels like being a fly-on-the-wall, and sometimes even a participant, in the artistic process, and is certainly an interaction that couldn’t take place anywhere except in a theatre.

 

(even) HOTTER is particularly hard to describe not just because of its extremely physical and sesuous nature, but because it feels more like an organic living thing that will continue to evolve, rather than a set production. It seems like an artwork which will grow rather than be repeated or reproduced, and watching it is a very personal experience that (like sex) will feel different for each different person in the room, but this is how it was for us. On the day we saw it, we discovered a fascinatingly higgledy-piggledy jigsaw of a show, made up of segments of last year’s verbatim performance, and the performers own remarkably frank insights into their own personal journeys. There were some hilariously well-timed performances of the surprising, liberating, and touching interview recordings, which Mary and Ell lipsync in a style that brings to mind the affectionate caricaturing of the mystery interviewees on the animated Creature Comforts series. There are insanely catchy musical interludes which transform snippets of the recordings into choruses for beautifully bizarre and expressive dance routines that we itched to join in with. There are moments of honesty, where the performers open up about their own most personal thoughts and feelings, and step out of their role as artists and storytellers to let us see their humanity laid bare. There was a lot of pink. We loved it, and if you ever have the chance to go, we’d love to hear how it was for you.

 

Follow Hotter and their producers Transgress, who also produced Kaiya Stone’s excellent and massively relatable one-woman comedy lecture on growing up with dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD: Everything’s Going To Be KO.

 

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The Half

 

Anna Crilly and Margaret Cabourn-Smith deliver knockout performances full of wit, venom and extraordinary pathos in this heartrending play about a comedy double-act who we meet on the anniversary of their final performance together.

 

Despite the comic potential of the setting of The Half (and the obvious comedy talents of its stars, which we glimpse as they recall their characters’ careers), this play is not short on gut-wrenching moments of tragedy. What starts as a light bout of sparring from two long-time frenemies quickly becomes unexpectedly dark, going to places filled with violence and heartbreak that we never anticipated.

 

Writer Danielle Ward and director Anna MacGowen’s combined skills and experience are indomitable, skewering the adversaries faced by women in comedy with the precision of seasoned hunters. Their work combines with the skills of their two actors in The Half to create a densely-woven three-dimensional portrait of a relationship. We see the the bitter-sweet friction build between the characters as they work hard to build and maintain their careers and their friendship in the face of an industry rife with sexism.

 

The tragedy of this play comes from the fact that both women cannot survive unscathed in this world that throws ever-larger roadblocks in their way. The former natural allies seem destined from the beginning of the play to be pitted against each other in a race against the ebbing tides of prejudice against them. Not because all women are meant to be Baby Jane-esque rivals at each other’s throats ‘til the end, but because of a combination of personal and socio-political circumstances which contribute to the layers of resentment building up between them over the course of decades. The portrayal of the effects of rampant sexism, ageism, single parent stigma, trauma, addiction and poor mental health on these women’s relationship is as multi-layered and as complex as the relationship itself. This presents a challenging number of crucial plot points for a fringe audience to absorb, and requires a high level of emotional engagement from both the actors and audience, but The Half’s two leads have the chops to carry us through it, and we’re with them throughout as they lift and dip us masterfully through the highs and lows of two interlocked lifetimes in the space of an hour.

 

Follow The Half to hear about any further performances.

 

 

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Baby Daddy

 

Elinor Coleman appears before the audience in her own autobiographical play as a captivating powerhouse of a performer in leopard-print leggings, using her bold presence and rich singing voice to fiercely reclaim her role as a young single mother from anyone who would use it to demonise or stereotype her. She presents motherhood as one aspect of her identity: inextricable from the woman she is today, a choice which has shaped her, but never something that wholly defines her. She’s a mother at the same time as being an artist, a daughter, a sister, a millennial, and a proud Brummie.

 

In Baby Daddy, Elinor reflects on the admirably defiant (if naive) confidence of her younger self, who became pregnant at the age of 20, when she was sharing a house and between jobs, and decided to have a baby “without a single doubt”. As she takes us in painful, hilarious, and sometimes wincingly-intimate detail through the pregnancy, birth, and bringing up her daughter, we see the last glimmers of naivety drop off her in sweat and tears as she struggles with the day-to-day practicalities of parenting alone, in the midst of the nasty negative reactions from those around her. She’s challenged constantly by the stigma that follows her into every pre- and post-natal appointment. There are moments when she’s sneered at, patronised, and isolated, during which our hearts swell with empathy, but not pity, as she never loses her self-belief and that pure gut-instinct confidence that having her child was the best choice.

 

The stigma against young single mothers, and the pressurised quest for a father-figure that it inspires, result in memorable moments of comedic gold, and the resulting conclusion that family is what you make it all comes together to provide an excellent narrative framework to shape Elinor’s story into a satisfying and meticulously-crafted piece of theatre, but ultimately, the heart of this story – the element that make it truly unforgettable is the unshakeable bond between a mother and daughter and their ability to give each other strength throughout everything.

 

Elinor’s love for her daughter drives Baby Daddy like an irresistible tide, pulling her from one chapter to the next on a journey towards valuing herself as the complete family-unit that her daughter deserves. We feel this love palpably in the room as we listen to recordings of her daughter asking questions, commenting, and giggling, throughout the show – her small voice integrated not just into scenes where she’s present, but throughout the show, alongside the beautifully-composed ever-present musical score that’s played live on stage using multiple musical instruments. At the climax of the play, this bright and lively little girl’s voice takes centre stage as mother and daughter perform a touching duet that had the whole room so choked we were ready to reach out and hug the nearest human to us, whether we knew them or not.

 

We may have cried during plenty of shows this Fringe and blamed the intensity of the Edinburgh experience a few times, but Elinor Coleman well and truly earned our tears as well as our admiration for being fearless in her honesty, and astonishing in her frank moments of vulnerability. She’s candid about the fact that she’s a human trying her best, not a superwoman, and we’re all the more in awe of her for it.

 

Follow Baby Daddy on twitter for more tour dates.

 

 

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Island Town

 

This new play, about teenagers trapped in an undefined small town somewhere in the countryside, fits perfectly in Paine’s Plough’s Roundabout space. It’s themes are of cycles and isolation, and we visualise our fellow audience-members (just visible opposite us in the dark) as the world outside the town, with the circle of the stage’s edge penning the characters in like the ring-road that surrounds their hometown.

 

The three-strong cast of Island Town all give compelling, convincing, and connected performances. In the Roundabout’s empty set and prop-free space, with Simon Longman’s staccato dialogue and Stef O’Driscoll’s distinctively punchy direction, this remarkable trio of actors pull the focus tightly around the three young friends’ close bond with each other. There are moments towards the beginning where they make each other (and the audience) laugh so much we think this could be an Inbetweeners-esque coming-of-age comedy, but that’s not how these kids lives pan out. Their small world is punctuated by moments of powerful slow-motion movement foreshadowing a glimpse of serious violence. Scenes of familiar teenage teasing are laced with a haunting feeling of foreboding as well as a sense of time passing at disconcertingly variable speeds.

 

Katherine Pearce is particularly magnetic to watch as Kate, the protagonist whose anger at the world and her situation builds into self-loathing as she ages rapidly before us. Kate’s exuberant teenage humour, initially laced with a wry cynicism that couldn’t quite hide the glimmer of hope behind her eyes, gradually gave way to a different kind of wildness: the kind of uncontrollable frustration-filled rage that is rarely seen in female characters on stage.

 

Even as the impending darkness chasing these teenagers closed in, and the disaster looming over the play from the beginning began to reveal itself, we couldn’t help but feel heartened to see a young woman exploring such a range and depth of feelings in a play that centres her experience and allows the audience to see the world through her eyes.

 

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Sticks and Stones

 

The same cast we loved in Island Town are in rep, featuring also in Sticks and Stones by Vinay Patel, where they play roles that could hardly be more different from the isolated young trio of characters in Island Town. Here they are powerful adults, presumably wielding significant influence and racing to climb career ladders in a fast-paced office, where Katherine Pearce once again shines as a busy working parent whose hopes for promotion are scuppered when a bad-taste joke she made in a meeting is called-out publicly by a colleague.

 

Vinay Patel’s super-intelligent and exquisitely satirical script is prefaced with the note that he has “veered away from specifying concrete character attributes such as race, class or gender”, not because such attributes aren’t important, but to give anyone staging it the freedom to play with instability. This company plays with it like an expert cat hunting many birds in one go, pinning down several different characters, and aspects of society and culture all at once, with jokes fluttering at every turn like feathers settling around a sense of discomfort, squirming but always kept alive under gentle paws with sharp claws. Stef O’Driscoll’s direction (with movement direction from Jennifer Jackson and Simon Carrol-Jones) uses the space to its fullest, with the cast leaping from one pose to the next as they jump into cheesy dance poses to send-up their hyper competitive everyone-for-themselves but everyone-must-conform working environment, and later to literalise the song-and-dance they make about using euphemisms and acronyms to signal their own virtue.

 

The euphemisms and buzzwords, thrown around the stage with such gusto and increasing rapidity, are the heart of what makes this play a work of genius – it’s a searing parody of the lengths people will go to avoid saying (or even inferring) certain words, whilst simultaneously avoiding thinking about the actual weight, meaning and history behind words that makes them taboo in the first place. At the same time, the fact that no one on stage ever specifies the word that gets the central character into hot water in Sticks and Stones stops the audience from fixating on the word itself in our minds, and allows us to observe the mechanisms involved in language censorship and call-out culture. It’s a device which exposes the kind of behaviour that even the ‘wokest’ of us are guilty of. It’s easy and common for those who think we can keep up with which words fall in and out of social acceptability to play the do-gooders and PC police, loudly highlighting potential offence caused by others, pointing out their mistakes to get out of ever addressing the roots and depths of our own prejudices, whatever they may be.

 

This wonderful cast of Island Town and Sticks and Stones also appeared in Paine’s Plough’s How To Spot An Alien, which comes highly recommended for kids of all ages by our trusted junior Bechdel ambassador (daughter of Baby Daddy’s Elinor Coleman) who we trusted when she told us it was loads of fun, and easily passed the Bechdel test.

 

Island Town, Sticks and Stones and How To Spot An Alien are touring in Paine’s Plough’s Roundabout, with upcoming dates in Salford, Kendal, Margate, Poole, Lincoln, Stoke-On-Trent, and Luton.

 

 

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The Providence of Neighbouring Bodies

 

Billed as “a dark comedy about beavers, beers, balconies, and America in chaos” The Providence of Neighbouring Bodies, by American playwright Jean Ann Douglass, is a keenly-observed piece of socio-political commentary dressed as a kooky-odd-couple story of female friendship. We’re immediately drawn into the inner worlds of two strangers who live next door to each other, easily connecting with them as they sit on their adjacent balconies through the fantastically detailed and focussed performances of Lori Elizabeth Parquet and Amy Staats, and the offbeat charm of the writing.

 

The two women’s inner-commentary monologues are both poetic and appealingly sensual, giving us a vivid insight into not just their thoughts and feelings, but their physical conditions as they wake, breathe in the morning air, drink a coffee, arrange some flowers and then finally share a beer and a laugh.

 

These characters both live alone in the same neighbourhood, are similar ages, and equally fascinating to get to know, though their natural rhythms, occupying thoughts, and responses to each other are comically different, and the play could easily have taken the direction of continuing to explore their mismatched but gradually warming relationship, riding on the laughs of hearing their conflicting internal interpretations of events.

 

However, not quite halfway into the play we’re introduced to a third character, who not only disrupts the quietly blossoming connection between the neighbours, but also the audience’s expectations of a reasonably naturalistic light comedy play. The new arrival is a beaver played by Dinah Berkley whose furry coat, twitchy nose, and long leather tail give her just the right amount of weirdness that we’re aware she’s a little bit different from the characters we’ve just got to know, but whose bright smile and friendly affability make it hard to comprehend when she’s regarded with a slight air of wariness, suspicion and even disdain by her new human friends.

Like Sticks and Stones, The Providence of Neighbouring Bodies deals with notions of prejudice and exclusion by using an element of absurdism to distance the characters from the real world, and succeeds in making their world seem just strange enough to shine a light on the roots and inner-workings behind their very recognisable behaviour without making their odd situation and familiar reactions seem like a clumsy analogy for one or another specific kind of intolerance or discrimination.

 

If we gave Bechdel test related awards, The Providence of Neighbouring Bodies would get one for depicting (without fanfare) two women past their mid-20s, both living alone and expressing their inner hopes, doubts, and independent takes on life, without one hint of a desire for male companionship or approval. This whole production was high in quality (special shout-out for the neatest design we saw on a Fringe stage this year), the characters were complex and well developed, and the unique plot gave us plenty of food for thought, so we’d love more UK audiences to have an opportunity to see this show, and hope it has plans for a run outside of Edinburgh.      

 

Follow production company Dutch Kills for news.

 

 

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Six

 

Six gives a voice to a group of very different women from different countries and spanning several decades, united by the one thing they have in common: the King of England (the infamous Henry VIII) who treated them appallingly badly. In this show the six wives reunite to tell their own Herstory, using belting ballads, thumping beats, and rippling guitar riffs to demonstrate how much more they are than just wives.

 

Each woman takes her turn to occupy centre stage with a solo song (always with the others on backing duties with impeccable harmonies and snappy dance routines), under the premise of figuring out which of them should be the lead vocalist. We don’t want to spoil the feminist message which provides the climax of this play, but safe to say the songs aren’t ALL about the King.

 

Part musical theatre, part history lesson, but mostly pop concert, this show has the atmosphere of an internationally-touring diva-supergroup on a stadium stage. It’s the perfect show to take the GCSE-aged feminist in your life to see songs inspired by the greatest singers of recent years (with clear nods to Beyonce, Rihanna and Adele amongst others) and buy the merch afterwards. But as big, exciting and important as the teen-girl audience is, we can’t help but feel that this vivacious re-writing of history should be seen and heard by anyone who was taught that “divorced, beheaded, died” rhyme at school. It’s a fun hour, but also a valuable one spent reassessing what we’ve learned about the past, who we learned it from, and what kinds of stories we should keep on passing down to future generations.

 

Following it’s Edinburgh run, Six is transferring to The Arts Theatre in the West End.

 

 

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Len Blanco: Firing Blancs

 

Hey girl, if you’ve ever doubted whether that the dude wearing the slogan t-shirt made in less-than-ethical conditions really IS what a feminist looks like, then this show’s for you. Len Blanco is a drag king with a story to tell, but before he does it, he makes us feel all of the teenage thrills of watching our favourite pop star take to the stage. 

 

Len’s undeniably sexy dance moves in his opening number are guaranteed to make any heteros who may have happened upon this show question their sexuality. But this is not a straight-up gender-blurring tribute act, nor is it a one-directional take on the life of a teen-pop pin-up gone bad. It’s an enlightening look into a later chapter in the life of a former womaniser embarking on a hilariously shambolic effort to get woke, in which Len Blanco’s clever creator Helen White challenges the length, depth, and girth of the commitment of Good Feminist Guys to the cause.

 

Follow Len Blanco for more drag king goodness.

 

 

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Zoo

 

In this gem of a new play by Lily Bevan two very different women on either side of the Atlantic bond over their shared love of animals and disappointment at humans. Bevan herself plays cheery Californian zookeeper Bonnie, sharing the stage with Lorna Beckett playing no-nonsense Carol, who works in a Yorkshire wildlife centre looking after bats. Both women are utterly devoted to their jobs, and despite their surface differences in accent, expression and tone, they find an understanding between them that runs deeper and holds faster than any other relationship either of them have ever had.

 

Zoo is a comedy, with characters and locations that are ripe for humour, but its impact as a play relies on the fact that we laugh with (rather than at) the two leads. Luckily Bonnie and Carol are written and played with such skill that, although they appear on the surface like they could be two sidekick-types in a sitcom with their distinctive accents, dungarees and unique eccentricities, they’re very much the joint-protagonists in this tale, each with their own history and emotional complexity to pull the audience into their world. It’s marvellous thing to have these two not only be the centre of their own compelling plot, but to have the strength of their friendship drive much of the action, as well as their commitment to their jobs.  

 

This is a play where nothing is ever as simple or easy as it seems. The show begins with an atmosphere so lighthearted it’s almost cute, but it has a darkness that rises gradually and subtly, like a very slow flood, until we find we’re much more deeply invested in these two characters than we would have imagined when they made us chuckle so easily in the first few scenes. It’s testament to the true talent of Lily Bevan and Loran Beckett that we went to see this show on a whim because we liked the sound of flamingos in a urinal, and were so taken in by their performances that we have not stopped thinking about these characters and their friendship since.

 

Follow Lily Bevan on twitter to keep up-to-date on her work.

 

 

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Dangerous Giant Animals

 

Christina Murdock’s play about living with a disabled sibling is based on her own relationship with her sister. On a bare stage, painted to depict her sister’s favourite animals in haunting cartoon silhouette, Christina takes us through the years of a family holding together by the skin of their teeth, and as she portrays each family member in turn we see etched on her face the pain that stretches them to their limits, as well as the deep love and commitment that binds them together.

 

Dangerous Giant Animals is a powerful exploration of the depth of sisterly love, and the violence of human nature, and represents a point-of-view that we haven’t seen represented on stage before with forthright honesty and immense tenderness.

 

Follow Christina Murdock for news on the future development of Dangerous Giant Animals.

 

 

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Miss Venezuela

 

If you’re looking for an education on the issues behind the headlines about Venezuela’s currently unfolding political crisis, you won’t get it here. Miss Venezuela is a queer clown carnival which offers more of an experience than an education – though that’s not to say that this show’s not highly political.

 

Andrea Spisto’s clown seems like she wants to please, trying various ways to get into character as beauty queen in an effort to be crowned Miss Venezuela, but she does not have it in her to conform. She knows deep down that she is already a beauty queen without changing her Latinx body, hair, or style: she doesn’t need to alter her appearance to value herself. It’s the pageant industry’s problem that they aren’t up-to-speed, and their loss is clear when she frees herself from the oppressively heavy sequin dress that burdens her throughout her hilariously frustrating repeated pageant-walk across the stage. She frolics freely in her rainbow swimsuit once she has rid herself of the weight of expectation, introducing us with pure joy to her brilliant body which is hairy, and short, which doesn’t have to be confined by constructs of femininity and masculinity to be sexy as hell.

 

From the moment we enter the room, Andrea exudes a kind of conspiratorial glee, and she maintains a glinting eye-contact and flashes each of us knowing smile throughout the show that keeps us all on the same page. We feel every moment of emotion on her rollercoaster of highs and lows as she goes through moments of feeling accepted and rejected. She gets every person in the room with an open heart and mind eagerly on board to skewer white-centric cis-het-normative capitalistic beauty standards with her, and excited to discover the work of her celebrity role-models whose photographs decorate her opulent home-painted set alongside glittering matriarchal Catholic iconography.

 

The best reason to see Andrea perform is that, as well as bearing witness to her own personal journey, you’re likely to absorb some of her contagious confidence and self-love. During her carnival we feel able to shake ourselves free for a moment from our own culturally ingrained preconceptions about what makes a beauty queen, and join her to rejoice in the true gorgeousness of dancing all together, comfortable in our own skin and sexuality. Miss Venezuela makes us feel like we’re part of an exclusive private party, where everyone is invited, as long as they’re ready to celebrate beauty with her in her wonderfully inclusive and stirringly positive way.  

 

Follow Andrea Spisto to find out what she does next.

 

 

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Fringe Wives Club: Glittery Clittery

 

This sequin-drenched hour from Fringe Wives Club was a full-throttle roller coaster of cabaret mastery by three women who clearly know their onions when it comes to vulva facts as well as knowing their way around an ultra-catchy pop song. Their passion was relentless, their dancing feet were restless, and they had time and energy to delve into a myriad of feminist issues – from the deeply serious points around consent, to the hilariously relatable problem of pocketless clothing.

 

Tessa Waters reigned supreme as the central figure holding this motley trio together, keeping the chaos just the right side of organised, she provided boundless laughs but always enforced clearly consensual boundaries when it came to audience participation. Rowena Hutson got our award from being the most adorable of all the personified vulvas we’ve ever seen on stage (believe me, we’ve seen a few) in the priceless ‘Lagoon of Mystery’ game show. Victoria Falconer provided the show’s highlight for us with her theremin solo, in which she flicked her tongue expertly to tease a tune from the electronic instrument in an act which hovered majestically in the middle of the sexy/hilarious venn diagram.

 

Victoria’s theremin work in Glittery Clittery was enough to entice us to also visit her solo show, Oxymoron, at the promise of more instrumental action. We were not disappointed – Oxymoron was a charmingly intimate cabaret centred around her personal experiences, including growing up with a Thai mother in a very white Australian town and discovering her bisexuality. Her use of instruments (including the theremin) as metaphors was ingenious, and her acid wit was merciless as she ripped into other people’s ignorant responses to her race and sexuality. Our fave moments included an impromptu lesson on playing the saw, and an astounding eel-preparation mime-sequence – but apparently the show changes every time she performs it, because like every true cabaret great, she’s truly performing for the moment and exquisitely responsive to the audience in the room.

 

Follow The Fringe Wives Club and Victoria Falconer for more.

 

 

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Electrolyte

 

This is gig theatre at its finest: Wildcard Theatre had us sucked into the world of Electrolyte from the (gloriously loud) opening bars of this dazzlingly intense concert/play/experience. In fact, we were so absorbed by the story, and so convinced by the cast, that we had to stop on our way out of the auditorium at the end to check whether the protagonist, Jessie, was real or fictional (she was in deed a character, played by the superb and appropriately electric Olivia Sweeney). We genuinely had to watch her actor’s showreel to remind ourselves that this was in fact a play, and not a piece of autobiographical performance art.

 

Despite the fun-time connotations of the gig setting, and the heart-meltingly enchanting songs from Maimuna Memon as Allie Touch, this play touches on some serious and upsetting issues, exploring grief and mental illness, including psychosis, but it manages to do so in a way which doesn’t glamorise, stigmatise, sanitise or sentimentalise the experiences of the character going through a breakdown. Rather than dramatising what Jessie’s going through from the point-of-view of an outsider, Electrolyte encourages the audience to view the world through her eyes by giving her a strong narrative voice. We’re alarmed and disturbed when she is, at just the right level to gain an insight into her experience without tipping into fearing or pitying her. Electrolyte is sensitive in its depictions of Jessie’s symptoms as only part of her story and character, and humanising in its perspective, with some of the best acting and musicianship we’ve ever witnessed. Keep your eyes peeled for more from this extraordinary company.

 

To find out about future performances and productions follow Wildcard Theatre.

 

 

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ThisEgg’s Dressed made headlines in the run-up to Fringe this year as one of many shows addressing a #metoo story, as it features the true account of one of the company being raped. However, what makes Dressed stand out, and the key to its watchability, is that the rape as an action is not at the heart of this piece. It is not the climax or the crux of the story.

 

Instead, the attack in question acts as a catalyst for a tale of friendship and healing. Lydia’s story, as told by herself and her closest school friends, is not centred around the trauma itself, but about how she finds her own way to process it and regain her strength and autonomy. This isn’t to say that this show couldn’t potentially contain triggers for some, but it’s very different to many shows we’ve ever seen which feature a rape or sexual assault, in that this company don’t build up to the rape as a narrative climax. They present the rape as an established fact near the opening of the show, and then almost exclusively describe the rebuilding of Lydia’s life, rather than the circumstances immediately before or during the attack.

 

The way Lydia rebuilds is first by making her own clothes, which we see her do often on stage, and second by making this show, which we see her do with the help of her best friends. Lydia’s friends are a group of women who met at a dance class when they were ten, and grew up together, each taking different career paths but remaining united in their creative roles (they are a singer, a dancer and a theatre-maker) as well as their long-lasting friendship. Throughout Dressed, we see them physically care for and protect each other, lift each other up, and make each other laugh in a way that only friends with years of history can. In a world still plagued with violence and injustice, and at a time when we’re seeing a lot of close examination of the nature of violence and injustice on stage, Dressed is a welcome respite thanks to ThisEgg’s focus on kindness, self-soothing, the reclamation of self-image, and immense healing power of togetherness.

 

Follow ThisEgg theatre company for future dates, and to check out their other current show: Unconditional, made by ThisEgg’s Josie Dale-Jones and her monther, which is touring in September.

 

 

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Polaris

 

Theatre-makers Holly and Ted presented a first for us in years of Bechdel testing: female dinosaurs (Val the Velociraptor and Tracy the T-Rex), talking to each other about something other than a man. They also play astronauts and schoolgirls – both of whom do have some unfortunate run-ins with men and boys. Using a fantastic foley soundscape, this loveable dungareed duo link together three stories with the overarching theme of the toxicity of polarised identities: gender identity, national identity, and cool kid at school identity, completely winning us over with their enthusiastic commitment to their roles (dinosaur and human alike) and their obvious passion for their unambiguous message of equality and inclusion.

 

Follow Holly and Ted to keep up with their work.

 

 

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Extinguished Things

 

Written and performed by Molly Taylor, Extinguished Things is a meditation on memory and nostalgia narrated by a woman exploring the empty home of her lifelong neighbours: an older couple in whose home she spent a few of her formative moments.

 

The reminiscences and revelations of Extinguished Things unfold at the perfect pace to keep the audience intrigued about the motivations of the bright-eyed but unassuming protagonist as she sits alone at the dining table of her parents’ acquaintances. Arnold and Evie’s house is described vividly in the script, and is brought to life by the meticulous details in the design and direction, from the feet padding across a soft carpet to the comforting slow boil of a kettle. Everything about this environment is reassuring, but emerging from within the cosy recollections are moments of discomfort, grief and profound pain.

 

The perspective of this play is firmly placed within its narrator – we see Arnold and Evie’s lives through her eyes, but it’s scope is wider than we could have anticipated on first meeting her as she delves into the world of their relationship which goes back way before she was born and touches on experiences that she could never fully understand.

 

Under the careful direction of Jade Lewis nothing is rushed over or dwelt on for too long in Extinguished Things, and we’re left with a strong feeling of awareness of the inner lives of everyone around us, and curiosity about the humanity behind every window we pass in the street on the way home.

 

Follow Molly Taylor for more.

 

 

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Dominoes

 

This new play by Phoebe McIntosh delves sensitively into the complex tension of a relationship between , a mixed-race woman of Caribbean/English heritage and a white Scottish man, when their relationship is strained almost to breaking point in the build-up to their wedding. The problems arise when the woman (Layla, played by the writer) discovers that her fiancé’s ancestors had previously been the slave-owners of her own. This scenario brings to the centre of one relationship a whole history of colonialism, and the British whitewashing of that history is highlighted by the fact that the link takes Layla by surprise, despite the fact that she herself is a history teacher.

 

Dominoes is hugely effective at taking the real and lasting impact of slavery, so often put in a box marked ‘Black American History’, and putting it to the forefront of everyone’s minds, on stage and off. When we’re confronted, as the characters are in this play, with the close proximity of this history, white British people’s crimes against humanity can’t be swept under the carpet.

 

Phoebe McIntosh offers several different perspectives on the situation, presenting a variety of (sometimes conflicting) views from black characters in Layla’s life, taking on multiple roles as her Grandfather, and her best friend, who each have their own opinions on marriage-to-be. Although Layla ultimately cannot agree with or follow the advice of both of them, and has to find her own path, the depictions of both of these characters are equally compelling, resonating with weight and wisdom that means their voices are valued by the audience as well as Layla, as ones worth listening to.

 

What makes this play more than a necessary and convincing call to face up to the reality of the UK’s brutal history of white violence, but also a realistic and subtly affecting drama, is the writer/performer’s nuanced portrayal of her protagonists’ inner life as she reacts to each conversation and revelation. Layla can’t ignore the impact that history has on her present, but wrestles with herself throughout the play, filled with internal conflict about how her new knowledge might change her future.

 

Follow Phoebe McIntosh for updates.

 

 

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Enter The Dragons

 

The silliest of all the comedies we saw at the Fringe, in the greatest possible way, this show created by A&E Comedy, aka Abigail Dooley and Emma Edwards, two women in their fifties on a mission to “Kick ageing up its arse”. Enter The Dragons was a life-affirming triumph that left us with aching cheeks and buzzing minds, as we left mulling over our own personal ageing journey – considering what to let go of, and what to hold on to in life.

 

Anna and Emma’s comic take on the classical Hero’s Journey took on the form of a mythic quest to defeat Chronos (the unrelenting God of time) with all the foils, fairydust and outlandish costumes you might expect from a pantomime-esque clown show. We particularly enjoyed their playfully DIY-aesthetic, with home-made-looking props emerging continuously from behind every curtain, toys representing family members, inventive use of head-gear: from ever longer grey wigs to disco-ball glory, and their ingenious use of shadow-puppetry in a side-splitting send-up of the beauty-industry. Everything about this show suggested that its makers had a whale of a time making and performing it, and the fun they had was shared by everyone in the room as we embarked on each new step of this increasingly wild journey with them, feeling more like children every step of the way (notwithstanding the wide range of real adult ages in the room).

 

While this fairytale isn’t necessarily for actual kids, it’s certainly not only for those with menopause in their sights. It gave us Millennials an important perspective on things to come, alongside an empowering message about the importance of generations standing together. Enter The Dragons reminded us that as much as we hold our younger child selves within us, our older (formidable dragonish) selves are in there somewhere too. Barring a few aspects of language and technology (and a lack of nostalgic fondness on our part for Germaine Greer), Enter The Dragons convinced us that we’re definitely not all that different from our mothers, grandmothers, and great-grandmothers, ad infinitum.

 

Enter The Dragons will be showing at The Pleasance in London November 6 – 10

 

 

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Century Song

 

Neema Bickersteth gives a jaw-dropping performance in this Canadian production exploring 100 years of Black women’s history through wordless songs, dance, and video animation. It’s impossible to overstate the breathtaking power of her operatic voice soaring through the cavernous high-ceilinged space at Zoo Southside, filling every corner of the room effortlessly, and resonating in the very bones of the mesmerised audience. This is a voice that swoops, loops, caresses the air and charges into the walls, vibrating every surface with a frequently morphing but always present energy. The energy of the whole performance is driven by her voice, and is reflected in and complemented by her captivating movement, the kaleidoscopic video art projected behind her, and her two live musicians paving the musical path that she dances on almost constantly. Even in her moments of stillness and silence there is a presence about her that makes the beat of her heart and the rise and fall of her breath seem to be playing a part in keeping alive the stories of the women that she inhabits.

 

The concept of Century Song is that the voices of a multitude of Black women from across the past century are brought together in a stream of songs, all sung by one woman. Some of these songs are original, and some are by (white male) composers from the 20th century classical canon. These classical pieces are given new meaning by this consummate artist who uses them as tools in the same way that she uses costume, video, and movement, and her own magnificent voice: to communicate something of the experience of a Black woman alive at their time of writing. The reason this concept works to engage the audience, despite the lack of words in this narrative, is because this is a performer who has not only a set of exceptional set of tools to communicate with, but clearly has a strong personal emotional connection with the stories she’s telling, and the way she’s chosen to explore them feels like it’s uniquely hers.

 

Neema Bickersteth’s vocal and emotional range work in tandem, her voice pierces the air with her opening notes, like a beacon’s light shining through nighttime, claiming the space and everyone’s undivided attention with the pure clarity of her sound. As the stories moved on she wails as if from the depths of a pit as she takes on one woman’s sorrow, then seems to grow taller as another woman builds up her strength. She bends under the weight of oppression, and then suddenly dazzles with brightness of resistance and unity. There are moments of intimacy and vulnerability as her voice quietens and her body turns in on itself, conflict as she twists her limbs and her voice pitches up and down, and moments of absolute joy and confidence as she leaps across the stage as though surrounded by dozens of her sisters, mothers, grandmothers and ancestors. If you’re reading this doubting that one woman alone could have the multitudes within her to fully embody so many different emotions, personalities, and stories spanning 100 years in the space of an hour, find a way to see Century Song, because it’s a feat to behold and a sheer honour to be able to witness.

 

Go to production company Volcano’s website for more details.

 

 

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Bitches In The Ford KA

 

This show promised on its poster to get the audience warmed up for a night out – not an easy task as we rocked up during our last week at the Fringe, exhausted to our very core, but this infectiously rambunctious trio did not disappoint, and their show did exactly as it promised and had us dancing with gusto before it was even halfway through.

 

Devised by real-life BFFs Beth Johnston, Leah Kirby, Holly Barnard (who along with producer Rebecca Thomason make up Cold Dinner Theatre), Bitches In The Ford KA is a feel-good friendship play about three excellently rowdy teenage pals on a night out. The concept is simple, the chemistry between the three women (who each play only slightly exaggerated versions of themselves) is fantastic, and the humour is both firmly girly and unashamedly filthy.

 

It truly gave us a new lease of life to recognise ourselves and our friends in each of the girls on stage as they worried, gossiped, played tricks on each other, and raised their bottles of cheap booze to toast each other’s triumphs. The giggles rocked us with the kind of hysteria we remember from being teenagers, and if we hadn’t had plans after the show we would have wanted to stay on, drink Sainsbury’s basics wine, and dance some more with these three.

 

Keep your eye out for more from Cold Dinner Theatre.

 

 

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Yana Alana: Between The Cracks

 

Cult cabaret icon Yana Alana was on top form for her first show at Edinburgh Fringe. She arrived on stage living up to her reputation as a diva extraordinaire with a miraculous voice so powerful it could shatter all the glass in a chandelier, and the temperament of someone who would shatter all the glass in the room if she was in the wrong mood.

 

Yana Alana is the creation of Australian performance artist Sarah Ward, and brilliantly teeters on a tightrope between reality and caricature – she has that monumental voice with an astounding range, the irresistible charisma, and the towering hair – all the elements are there to convince us that this could be a real-live stadium-sized icon arrived to grace us with her presence at the Fringe.

 

But she’s naked.

 

The blue diamante catsuit that she rocks is not just skin tight, it IS skin. Her outfit is painted on in blue bodypaint: pubic hair, bumcrack, boobs, scars and all, every part of her is proudly on display. This hour of blue nudity was without a doubt the most stunning visual declaration of body positivity, and the strongest embodying of simultaneous power and vulnerability that we’ve seen amongst all this year’s feminist theatre offerings.

 

And Yana Alana’s body is not all that she reveals. Between the high-octane jokes, belting tunes, diva tantrums and playful audience engagement there is more than a hint of sincerity in the descriptions of mental health problems. When Yana sings about being blue, she means it. When she riffs on Gnarls Barkley’s ‘Crazy’, it has a knowing edge of mania which connects with us on a different plane of communication from the cheeky grins, winks and nudges she tosses into the crowd constantly throughout the show. This character is not just a way for the performer to make us laugh, it seems, but a blue-tinged hand reaching out to those of us who have experienced depression and mental illness, to help us feel less alone in the world.

 

There was only one aspect of Yana’s diva behaviour that let down the awesome feminist empowerment vibe of Between The Cracks. In a running-joke Yana’s pianist Louise Goh interrupts songs by answering her phone, and is finally yelled at and sent off stage along with drummer Bec Matthews. In the performance we saw, Yana’s volatility was mostly directed at Louise, and although the joke was on Yana’s tantruming and self-absorption, it jarred with us somewhat to see an East Asian woman playing the role of a silent foil fixated on her phone.

 

Follow Yana Alana on instagram for updates.

 

 

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Athena Kugblenu: Follow The Leader

 

Athena Kugblenu has come to the Fringe to talk about leadership – about what makes a good leader, and why she has never tried to become a leader of anything herself. More than just a standard politcial-comic-talks-about-politicians set, Follow The Leader is a brilliant critique of the very systems on which our world is run. It plays on the old adage that the best people to lead are not likely to be the kind of egotists who end up doing it, which winds up with Athena suggesting we consider finding a new kind of leader: the kind of person who doesn’t pretend to be perfect but is just as flawed as you are. That’s her, obviously, because she has just spent a good deal of her act pointing out her own flaws in hilariously relatable detail.

 

In a post-Nanette comedy scene, jokes made by a performer at their own expense are sometimes harder to laugh at than they once were. However, Athena perfectly balances out every moment of self-deprecation with either a jibe aimed at someone else, or a moment of happy self-aggrandisement. Her confessional jokes about drunken fuck-ups are tucked in beside a pointed ribbing of white audience members choices of “favourite leader”. Her tales of sexual misadventures are tagged onto a fantastic boast (which we 100% believe) about how brilliant she is at plumbing. She feels like a comic who finds genuine joy in sending herself up, but also someone pokes fun at the world around her with the same vigour and precision as she aims at herself. She does all this with an intelligence that doesn’t underestimate her audience, and speed of wit which keeps us switched on, but not overwhelmed. This all comes together to make a show where we feel relaxed and ready to laugh, but not at rest or ready to turn off our brains.

 

The more Athena Kugblenu regales us with stories of why she wouldn’t run for any kind of leadership, the more we want to vote for her. The world could definitely do with more leaders who are this intelligent, honest, and can bring this much fun to an early-evening show about politics.

 

Have a look on Athena Kugblenu’s website for future gigs.

 

 

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Heather and Harry

 

A love story told with panache and flair by three natural-born entertainers, Heather and Harry is the work of accomplished clown company Stumble Trip, with establishing members Grace Church and Chloe Young working in collaboration with musician Laila Woozer, who provides musical accompaniment so seamlessly integrated into the story that we couldn’t believe she wasn’t a founding member of the company.

 

Unashamedly positive in its outlook, Heather and Harry presents love as the solution to all problems, the rose-tinted glasses which make even the grimiest of towns and the most difficult of challenges feel instantly filled with sweetness and light.

 

This exuberant pick-me-up of a show has the idealism and satisfyingly simplistic structure of a kids show, but the sharp wit and knowing winks of a cabaret show. In fact, with a little adaptation to Heather and Harry, Stumble Trip could easily tip either way to please an audience of under-tens whilst keeping their parents amused in the morning, or turn up the naughtiness to become a raucous cabaret romp late into the night, should the company wish to explore either or both of those directions. As it is, it sits prettily in the middle of both genres, and was a gorgeously cockle-warming early-evening watch for us after we’d spent our afternoon watching harrowing tales of sexual assault. We felt healed by Stumble Trip, and left with smiles on our faces and good deeds on our to-do list.

 

Check on Stumble Trip’s website to find out more about their work.

 

 

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Drip Feed

 

What’s this? A play about a gay woman that’s not a painful, youthful coming out story?! A play that’s set in the 90s by someone who might have actually been a sentient human during that decade?! Drip Feed has a lot going for it in terms of representation, being a lesbian story with a protagonist over 30 that doesn’t centre around homophobia or sexuality – although both are realistically present. It succeeds in almost* never coming close to into any of the clichés seen in LGBTQ+ focused drama.

 

Writer Karen Cogan gives a humour-filled and wonderfully connected performance as Brenda, who never quite cuts a tragic figure – despite telling us a story that’s not short of heartbreak – as she goes about her chaotic life, rambling through the streets of Cork, from bars and clubs to familiar houses and street-corners filled with memories. The character she presents is easily lovable, hilariously matter-of-fact, with a fabulously unusual turn-of-phrase. She has a kind of undirected intensity, an unsettled energy that allows us to clearly envision her in the circumstances that her character finds herself in. We come to understand how Brenda goes from the life-and-soul of the party to stumbling danger-to-herself, without ever losing our ability to like and relate to her. 

 

Drip Feed takes us on a journey around Brenda’s home city, describing every location and character she encounters in such remarkable and vivid detail that by the end of Drip Feed we feel like we have spent an hour walking in her battered shoes, breathing the Cork air, and reeling from every disappointment and injustice that her life offers up. We have no regrets at having caught a glimpse into her world, and laughed a lot, but found it hard to shake off the air of melancholy that followed us outside the tent once we had left the warmth of her presence. As a writer Karen Cogan makes an impression that’s brilliant and memorable, as a character Brenda makes an impact that’s difficult to forget.

 

If you see this show during a future run, leave yourself time to absorb it afterwards. We think it’ll be easier to receive outside of the hectic pace of Edinburgh: this is a story and character that will benefit from being seen in an environment with a little more breathing space.

 

Drip Feed is running at Soho Theatre Sept 24 – Oct 20. Follow Karen Cogan for more.
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Sarah Keyworth: Dark Horse

 

An excitable audience turned out for Sarah Keyworth, filling the small bunker at Pleasance with the buzzy anticipation of an expectant fanbase. And these fans of deadpan delivery and lesbian content were not disappointed. We were treated to a well-honed stream of stories about Sarah’s childhood as a ‘tomboy’ attempting to woo older women with her jokes, her uncomfortable teenage years trying to conform to gender roles, and her growth into the adult we know and love: the dashing soft-butch destroying preconceptions of heterosexuals by rocking up to weddings in a sharp suit designed for pre-teen boys, and the dedicated childminder providing the two young kids who she nannies for with a fantastic role-model (it’s a fair exchange, as they in turn provide her with an enormous wealth of comic material).

 

This show’s theme of gender-roles, how they’re learned, and how they might be dismantled, creeps up on us gradually, through a steady stream of jokes which land so frequently that they barely need holding in place with any kind of narrative. Her material is delivered so naturally that the punchlines seem to fall on top of one another with hardly any effort, and her perfectly controlled conversational pace only lapsed briefly during the hour we saw – at an extremely funny point when she laughed herself as she struggled to find a straight woman in the room to aim a joke at.

 

The ‘moral of the story’ in Dark Horse is that anyone involved in bringing up kids can have an impact on challenging the gendered expectations that society throws at them. Far from being a forced ‘serious bit’ for the sake of the show, this reads as a core idea of Sarah’s, and seems to be one which has been forming in her mind throughout her life. As her show comes full circle and we see Sarah (no longer the little girl who was bullied for not fitting in) giving great advice to the little girl in her care about how to deal with gender stereotyping, it’s not just a neat ending but a genuinely moving feminist fringe moment.

 

Follow Sarah Keyworth for more dates.

 

 

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That’s all for this year’s Edinburgh Fringe faves! Don’t forget to follow us on instagram & twitter, and subscribe to our podcast for more recommendations throughout the year.

Thanks to everyone who got in touch to tell us about your show – we’re sorry we couldn’t see and feature all of them.

Very special thank you to Lizzie Milton for helping us edit this bumper-sized blog.

 

_______

*SPOILER if you haven’t seen Drip Feed.

We were a little upset about the exception to the lack of gay-drama cliche in this otherwise brilliant play: the moment when Victoria, a character we cheered on from the beginning, falls victim to dead-lesbian-syndrome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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#FeministFringe hot tips from Edinburgh 2018

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Our first week of seeking feminist theatre at Edinburgh Fringe is over, and WHAT a wondrous week it has been! The representation and quality of work we’ve seen has been STRONG so far, and we’ve been applying stickers left, right and centre to posters of productions that pass the Bechdel test.

Follow us on instagram & twitter to keep up with our festival highlights in real-time.

We also took a moment out from seeing shows to record a podcast interview with Joana Nastari, creator of Fuck You Pay Me, which is dazzling audiences at Assembly Rooms every day at 15:25.

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It’s a bit early yet to choose our ultimate #FeministFringe faves for this year, but we’ve had a few more shows appear on our radar since our pre-fringe recommendation blog.

So here are 23 shows that have made a strong impression on us since arriving in at the Fringe. We want to let you in on which tickets we think are HOT so you can get tickets before the sales go through the roof, or (if you’re not in Edinburgh) be ready to book yourselves in for the national tours as they’re announced.

Remember: you see something  pass the Bechdel test with flying colours that we haven’t listed here you can email us on bechdeltheatre@gmail.com or tag us on social media. If you see one of these shows on our recommendation and it changes your life for the better, feel free to thank us by becoming a Patreon and supporting us with $1 a month to keep up our work at Fringe and beyond!

 

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(even) HOTTER, Bedlam, 21:30, August 1 – 27 (not 14, 21)

Two women interviewed people (between the ages of 13 and 97) about what gets them hot, to make a play about blushing, sweating, pinkness, and pleasure.

 

Trojan Horse, Summerhall, 15:15, August 1 – 26 (not 13)

Verbatim play adapted from the real-life testimonies of those at the heart of the government inquiry following allegations made towards ‘hardline’ Muslim teachers and governors accused of plotting extremism in Birmingham schools.

 

Extinguished Things, Summerhall, 19:25, August 1 – 26 (not 2, 20)

Solo play written and performed by Molly Taylor in which a woman explores the empty house belonging to her neighbours, directed by Jade Lewis (who appeared on Bechdel Theatre Podcast last year talking about directing her previous Edinburgh Fringe show Quarter Life Crisis).

 

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Baby Daddy, Assembly Rooms, 18:20, August 2 – 13

Autobiographical show about life as a young single mother, by Elinor Coleman, with original live music and recorded conversations with her young daughter. Finishes on the 13th, so make sure you get in there ASAP!

 

Freeman, Pleasance Courtyard, 17:00, August 1 – 27 (not 10)

Physical theatre show about the link between mental health and systemic racism, inspired by the first man in America to plead insanity as his defence in court.

 

Pickle Jar, Underbelly Cowgate, 16:40, August 2 – 26 (not 14)

Solo play about a teacher whose life becomes intertwined with her students, written and performed by Maddie Rice who performed Fleabag last year.

 

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Miss Venezuela, Just The Tonic at The Mash House, 22:10, August 2 – 26 (not 13)

Queer carnival clown show about tearing up beauty standards, by Andrea Spisto, set against a hand-painted backdrop featuring the faces of her heroes.

 

Len Blanco: Firing Blancs, Revolution Bar, 21:40, August 5 – 10

Drag king show from ex-boyband member and newly woke feminist, Len Blanco. This one’s only on for a short run, so catch him before Friday.

 

Dangerous Giant Animals, Underbelly Cowgate, 12:00, August 2 – 26 (not 8, 13, 14, 21)

Solo play about living with a disabled sibling, and the violence of human nature, written and performed by Christina Murdock, whose story is based on her own relationship with her sister.

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Dominoes, Asssembly George Square, 12:00, August 1 – 27 (not 8, 13, 20)

Solo play about a woman who discovers that her husband’s ancestors enslaved her own. Written and performed by Phoebe McIntosh.

 

Wacky Racists Bedlam, 23:00, August 17 & 24

Sophie Duker takes over the Bedlam late night comedy slot to host her bigot-crushing comedy cabaret gameshow. This night is always a hit in London, and the Edinburgh performances are fundraising for the memorial fund of Khadija Saye, the 24 year old artist who died in the Grenfell fire.

 

Evelyn Mok Pleasance Courtyard, 18:00, August 1 – 26

One of our feminist faves from last year is back at the Fringe, with a much anticipated follow up show to last year’s show.

 

Thrown by Jodi Gray, Underbelly Cowgate, 20:50, August 2 – 19

New play by Jodi Gray exploring the moment when we transition from childhood to adulthood, inspired by interviews with real people, and performed using a microphone shaped like a human head with the audience wearing headphones throughout.

 

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Chase Scenes, Summerhall, 14:25, August 1 – 26 (not 6, 13, 20)

Canadian performance artist Ming Hon cuts to the chase, with 60 movie chase scenes re-enacted on stage in 60 minutes.

 

Century Song, Zoo Southside, 15:00, August 9 – 18 (not 15)

Exploring 100 years of Black women’s unspoken history through performance, music, and animated art. From original co-producers of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.

 

Ada Campe & the Psychic Duck, The Stand’s New Town Theatre, 14:50, August 2 – 26 (not 14)

Another performer we loved last year returns, having recently won Leicester Square Theatre’s ‘Old Comedian of the Year’ award. See Ada Campe for a healthy dose of silliness, magic and mayhem.

 

The Providence of Neighbouring Bodies, Underbelly Cowgate, 14:30, August 3 – 26 (not 13)

A dark comedy about beavers, beers, balconies, and America in chaos.

 

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Zoo, Assembly George Square, 11:00, August 2 – 26 (not 13, 20)

New play about female friendship. Two very different women on either side of the Atlantic who bond over their shared love of working with animals, by Lily Bevan.

 

Island Town, Summerhall, times and dates vary – check the Fringe website.

A new production from the reliably excellent Paines Plough about three friends trying to break away from the town they live in.

 

Sticks and Stones, Summerhall, times and dates vary – check the Fringe website.

A satirical new play by BAFTA-nominated Vinay Patel about a misfiring joke and understanding each other in a technological age.

 

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Six, Underbelly, George Square, 19:30, August  1 – 27 (not 13)

Feminist musical about the wives of King Henry VIII.

 

Polaris, Pleasance Courtyard, 12:55, August 1 – 27

Teenage girls trying to survive year ten, passing the Bechdel test by talking astronauts and dinosaurs whilst also dealing with toxic masculinity.

 

Daisy Earl and Sukh Ojla, Fireside Arch III, 19:30, August 16-26

A shared hour of stand-up between two rising comedy stars, including Sukh Ojla who had the crowd in stitches at our Bechdel test passing comedy night last year.

 

Bechdel Testing Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Heading up to Edinburgh Fringe and looking for shows to see that break from the stale/pale/male standard?

Want to see something that represents you/the world as you recognise it/the changes you want to see/the FUTURE?

Look no further.

Listed below are our pick of the shows we have on our radar to help you plan your most entertaining and intersectional Fringe visit, without a one-man-show in sight. These are either shows that we’ve seen in previews, or have on our radar via HEAVY recommendation and solid assurance that they pass the Bechdel test. Follow us on twitter, instagram, and fb, and subscribe to our podcast for regular updates detailed run-down of our favourites once we’ve seen them.

 

If you’re going to Edinburgh during August and have or see a show that you think we should be talking about, please contact us by email: bechdeltheatre@gmail.com. And make sure you say hi if you see us walking around in our Bechdel Theatre badges or t-shirts!

One last thing before the list – we would really appreciate your support if you enjoy our work:

  • Become a Patreon. This helps us to pay for regular outgoings like printing and web hosting. You can pledge as little as $1 a month through Patreon (that’s about 75p!), and as well as sending you badges, we update you first with all of our most exciting news and exclusive theatre ticket discount codes.

  • If you don’t have money, that’s OK. You can help us out by sharing our work. We don’t have a PR machine, please spread the hype!

Thanks for supporting, and happy Bechdel testing ❤️

PS. If you’re not going to Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year, or don’t have time while you’re there to cram all these amazing shows in – we got you covered! Many of these productions are previewing in England before they head north of the border so we’re flagging those up, and as always we’ll be updating you on our podcast and social media whenever they announce a new transfer or tour – you will not miss out!

Queens Of Sheba Underbelly, Cowgate
18:50 August 2 – 26 (not 13)
An unflinching look at misogynoir, this four-woman show does not shy away from the harsh realities faced by black women, but raises up their voices with joyously powerful words by Jessica Hagen.
Listen to our podcast featuring Michelle Barwood reviewing Queens of Sheba when we saw an early preview of it last year.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can see Queens of Sheba opening the Autumn season at New Diorama Theatre in London Sept 4 – 8.

Sparks Pleasance Courtyard
11:30 August 1 – 26 (not 8, 13, 20)
Written and performed by Jessica Butcher and Anoushka Lucas, this story of love and grief with an original live music score was a hit at VAULT Festival. Edinburgh Fringe goers, get ready to experience the astounding array of talent in this all-female team.

Hot Brown Honey Gilded Balloon Teviot
19:30 August 2 – 27 (not 8, 15, 23)
This show’s been heavily featured on our Edinburgh recommendations lists for the past 3 years as a flawless piece of pure feminist empowerment, but we’ve heard that this year may be their last ever Fringe! If you haven’t seen this all-WOC circus cabaret troupe of sublimely badass Aussies then make sure you don’t miss your chance to join the revolution #DecoloniseAndMoisturise.
Subscribe to our podcast to hear our interviewwith a couple of the HBH Hive.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can see Hot Brown Honey at the Southbank Centre in London on 24 – 28th July, and also catch the show they’ve co-created with a team of creative UK Femmes of Colour: Hive City Legacy at Roundhouse July 10 – 21.

F**k You Pay Me Assembly Rooms
15:25 August 2 – 26 (not 14, 21)
This one-woman show BY strippers and FOR strippers features Joana Nastari as Bea, who is on her way home from working (as a stripper) to face the judgement of her Catholic family who have just discovered what she does for a living. This show won a People’s Choice award at VAULT Festival, and we heard so many people raving about it with such passion that we feel like it’s got potential to reach cult-fave status before August is out.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can get a taste of F**k You Pay Me at their preview on July 27th at Hoxton Square Bar + Kitchen.

WHITE Pleasance Courtyard
11:30 August 15-27 (not 20)
Koko Brown uses her loop pedal and spoken word to tell stories from her experience of growing up mixed race. This show has been a hit with audiences at VAULT Festival and Ovalhouse, and is part of Koko’s trilogy of three shows about race, gender, and mental health.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh Koko is part of Hot Brown Honey’s (aforementioned) Hive City Legacy at Roundhouse, and has produced (and is performing at) Please Tick One: an unapologetic celebration of mixed race artists at The Cockpit on July 24th.

One Life Stand Summerhall Roundabout
21:45 August 1 – 26 (not 2, 7, 14, 21)
Middle Child, electrifying gig-theatre-makers and Paine’s Plough associate company, are returning to Edinburgh with a new play about sex and intimacy, with a cast that features previous Bechdel Theatre Podcast guest Tanya Loretta Dee. Listen to Tanya on our 2017 Edinburgh Fringe podcast episode when we talked to her about the play she was in last year:, ‘Offside’,which is currently touring the UK with a new cast.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can catch One Life Stand at several different venues in Hull during July (including several Pay What You Can performances, and one BSL-interpreted performance on July 9th), and at Latitude Festival.

Power Play: Funeral Flowers, Next time, Somebody, The Empty Chair Power Play Pop-Up HQ
13:00, 14:30, 16:00, 17:30 August 4 – 25 (not 7, 14, 21)
Power Play are taking over a whole house in Edinburgh that they’re calling POWER PLAY HQ. Alongside staging four brand new plays by and about women, they’ll be hosting activist events and one-off specials exploring and celebrating gender and representation at Fringe. They’re also undertaking a massive data survey analysing gender representation at the Fringe. Safe to say we’ll be spending a fair bit of time in this house of power!

Ladykiller Pleasance Courtyard
13:00 August 1 – 27 (not 14)
The latest offering from The Thelmas, uber feminist champions of new writing, is a blood-soaked morality tale by Madelaine Gould about social responsibility, zero-hours contracts and tearing up the gender rule book on psychopathy.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can catch The Thelmas first full-length show, Offie-nominated Coconut by Guleraana Mir on tour until the end of June.

Skin A Cat Assembly Rooms
16:10 August 2 – 25 (not 13)
Isley Lynn’s disarmingly hilarious and deeply personal story of self-love, sex, and acceptance was the our number one feel-good hit of 2015, and we’re SO hyped to see it back, with Lydia Larson returning to the lead role of Alana.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh Skin A Cat is previewing at Offbeat Festival in Oxford, and Brainchild Festival in Sussex, and will be touring the UK in Autumn.

Finding Fassbender Pleasance Courtyard
11:45 August 1 – 27 (not 13)
Speaking of Lydia Larson, if you enjoy her sparkly-eyed warmth and dulcet Wolverhampton tones in Skin A Cat, be sure not to miss her starring in her own writing debut about a woman moving down to London from the Midlands and discovering a weird connection with a Hollywood actor.

Clingfilm Pleasance Courtyard
23:00 1 – 27 (not 13, 20)
This comedy cabaret trio are returning to Edinburgh Fringe after the success of their last show about body image, Private View. This one sees the unlikley girl band exploring what happens when a Pole, a Turk, and a Brit cross paths at a funeral.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh: (and even if you are tbh) you can check out Plunge’s music video for their song Shallow.

Love Songs Underbelly Cowgate
14:40 August 2 – 26 (not 15)
A one-woman rap and spoken word show featuring get-you-on-the-dance-floor music. It’s about love, and a lot of it is about men, but not all of it. We trust Alissa’s taste in music because she’s dancing to Beyoncé in the trailer.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh Love Songs is previewing at Juju’s bar on July 23rd, when they will also be playing host to a collection of other performers showcasing extracts from their Edinburgh Fringe shows.

Elf Lyons: ChiffChaff Pleasance Dome
18:30 August 1 – 27 (not 13)
The Queen of Clown is back, with a show about Economics. We trust it’s going to be funny despite the serious topic, because Elf is hilarious, but we’re also hoping that we might learn a thing or two as well.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can see Elf in London, Windsor, Tring, Brighton, Bristol, Cambridge, Yorkshire, and Berlin.

Egg: Richard Pictures Pleasance Courtyard
18:00 August 1 -26 (not 13)
Sketch comedy duo Egg are back after their glorious show Egg:Static split our sides in the best way possible last year. They’re still not talking about fertility. They probably will mention feminism, though.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh Egg have loads of previews in London.

Artcoholic Just The Tonic at the Caves
14:40 2 – 26 (not 13)
Muchachico is the drag king alter ego of Spanish comedy superstar Isa Bonachera (who is ALL OVER the Fringe, hosting her own horror-comedy and cabaret variety show Late Night Evil, and appearing as one half of sketch double act Agenda Benders). Muchachico is a very bad artist, but a very funny character who we can’t wait to spend an afternoon with.

Dragprov Revue Sweet Novotel
22:00 August 2 – 26 (not 14)
Another one-to-watch for our fellow drag-addicts, this King & Queen double act, loveable soft boy Christian Adore and sassy queen Eaton Messe perform sketches and music based on audience suggestions.
If you’re not going to Edinburgh you can catch these two in London previews on July 16th & 28th.

The LOL Word Three Broomsticks
21: 15 August 4 – 25
A stand-up night with an all-queer women line-up, you say? We’ll be there with our own all-queer line-up, eagerly waiting to be picked on and/or up in the front row.

Bob & Buds  Laughing Horse @ Bar 50
19:15 August 1 – 26 (not 13)
Kemah Bob (host of the wonderful FOC (Femmes Of Colour) It Up Comedy Club hosts a night featuring her favourite comic pals. It’ll be personal, it’ll be political, it’ll be a dream come true.

Duke Pop Bedlam Theatre
18:30 August 1 – 26 (not 14)
Another two funny #FeministFaves: Sophie Duker (self-declared SJW Princess and host of her own geniusly-titled ‘Wacky Racists’ comedy night) and Lulu Popplewell (self-declared recovering drug-addict and former child actor) are splitting this scorching hot comedy hour.

 

Bechdel Testing Theatre: 2018

Welcome to our annual January run-down of the theatre productions that we’re most looking forward to – we don’t know if all of these shows will definitely pass the Bechdel test yet, but we hereby speculate that most of them will ace it.


After 2017 proved to be erm… Challenging? Busy? Intense? Exciting? A Lot, basically, for feminists everywhere. This has given creatives a lot to reflect on and carry on to in 2018, and the year in theatre is already off to a buzzing beginning. The shows at the top of our to-see list have already opened, so get your skates on to catch ‘Lobster’ and ‘Rita, Sue and Bob Too’, with ‘There or Here’ and ‘Calm Down Dear’ opening soon. They’ll all be excellent New Years-blues chasers.


For those of you without a spare moment in January, we’re looking ahead further into the future with plenty of recommendations to get us through the dark months and then spring into summer when we’ll be back with some choice Edinburgh fringe picks.


If you’re after regular updates as we discover more shows that pass the Bechdel test with flying colours, and some feministically inclined reviews of these shows once we’ve seen them, follow us on twitter, instagram, facebook, and subscribe to our podcast.


Lobster Theatre503 until Jan 20
A love story where the protagonists are two women in a relationship with each other? And it’s NOT an LGBTQ+ “issue play” but a sweet rom-com with a quirky sense of observational humour at its heart? We’re sold! ‘Lobster’ explores what happens when opposite personalities attract, when #relationshipgoals are not always shared, and the effects of mental health problems on couples. It’s a strong start to the year from 503 who have two more plays coming up this season: ‘Her Not Him’ and ‘Juniper & Jules’, which both centre queer women. How refreshing it will be to sit down to watch ‘Lobster’ and know it’s not a one-off chance at representation for women who love women at this theatre!


Rita, Sue and Bob Too Royal Court until Jan 27
This production came close to being overshadowed by the controversy over its removal and subsequent return to the Royal Courts programme in the wake of allegations against Out of Joint’s former artistic director. Having been reinstated after some excellent listening by the Royal Court’s Vicky Featherstone, Andrea Dunbur’s authorial voice in ‘Rita, Sue..’ is allowed to shine brightly and distinctively through the murky shadow that threatened to surround this production, and through the decades that have passed since it premiered. Dunbar’s play, more than just a shocking relic of the 80s, registers now as a vitally relevant and nuanced commentary on issues of power and sexuality. It’s clear that the cast creative team have a deep and authentic connection with its roots, and a confidence in the script that comes from a year of touring the show, as well as an immense trust in Dunbar’s truth. This year’s earliest must see.
If you like this: The Royal Court is also hosting The Andrea Project on Saturday Jan 20th. A day of free events inspired by the life, work and legacy of Andrea Dunbar.


Calm Down Dear Camden People’s Theatre until Sunday Feb 4
The always awesome ‘Calm Down Dear’ festival of feminist theatre at Camden People’s Theatre is back and as necessary as ever. Headlining this year is one of our absolute feminist faves Racheal Ofori, following up on her one-woman show ‘Portrait’ (which we spoke about on our podcast in December) with a new piece called ‘So Many Reasons’ (which is also going to be at Ovalhouse and On Tour, if you can’t make it to Camden People’s Theatre).
Plus: the first chance to catch a glimpse of new shows by Vanessa Kisuule, Caroline Horton, and Libby Liburd.


There or Here The Park 23 Jan – 17 Feb
The company behind 2013’s hit show ‘Yellow Face’, Special Relationship productions (a company set up to give greater exposure to under-represented groups in theatre) are back with ‘There or Here’: a relationship comedy with a serious issue at its heart. This new play by Jennifer Maisel tells the story of an American couple who travel to India in search of a surrogate to carry their child.
Subscribe to our podcast to hear more from Rakhee Thakrar who we’ve just interviewed about her role in the show for our upcoming January episode.
See you there: Bechdel Theatre is hosting a post-show conversation after ‘There or Here’ on Feb 1st, where you can join us in a relaxed gathering to talk with other audience members and some of the creative team about themes of the play.



VAULT Festival Jan 24 – Mar 18
With a 52% gender split in favour of women, pickings are rich if you’re seeking feminist theatre in this year’s super-sized VAULT Festival. We’ll be there with stickers, highlighting which shows pass the #BechdelTest, and there will surely be more added to the list of shows on our radar as we discover them, so keep an eye on our twitter, facebook and instagram and an ear to our podcast.
First Picks, in chronological order to help you plan your festival – you’re welcome: Fuck You Pay Me (24 – 28 Jan), For A Black Girl (24 – 28 Jan) The Breaks In You and I (31 Jan – 4 Feb), Madonna or Whore (31 Jan – Feb 4), The Internet Was Made For Adults (Feb 7 – 11), Finding Fassbender (Feb 14 – 15), The Vagina Dialogues (Feb 14-18), I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream (Feb 14 – 18), Elsa (Feb 14 – 18) The Quantum Physics of My Heart (21 – 25 Feb), Borderline (Feb 24), Split (Feb 28 – Mar 4), Good Girl (Feb 28 – Mar 4), Boots (7 – 11 Mar), Things That Do Not C(o)unt (14 – 18 Mar).
Into The Numbers Finborough Theatre Jan 2 – 27th
This European premiere of ‘Into the Numbers’ commemorates the 80th anniversary of the Nanking massacre. A “theatrical exploration of the philosophical and psychological implications of researching genocide, as well as the toll media saturation plays in the process”, the play centres around a lecture by Iris Chang, who wrote a book about the massacre, and later committed suicide. The production features an impressive cast, including the wonderful Jennifer Lim, who appeared in our ‘Bechdel Testing Life’ show at The Bunker in July 2017.


Oranges and Elephants Hoxton Hall 23 Jan – 10 Feb
Former East-End Music hall (restored in 2015) Hoxton Hall’s spring season is titled ‘Female Parts’ – so-called because all the shows in their next three month’s programme have an all-female creative cast and creative team. Headlining is ‘Oranges and Elephants’: a new musical, in a Victorian England setting appropriate to its atmospheric venue, about two rival female gangs involved in a turf-war.
Collective Rage 24 Jan – 17 Feb
Five women called Betty, each played by a mega-talented performers, from West End star Johnnie Fiori to cabaret darling Lucy McCormick, will collide in this “joyously anarchic” show, which promises to reject shame and stereotype and “shatter lacquered femininity into a thousand glittering pieces” at Southwark playhouse from January 24th. We can’t think of a better way to start the new year.
Bonus: Southwark are hosting a number of excellent looking post-show events alongside this production – of particular interest is Jan 26th’s #SecondHalf post-show panel which features some of our #feministfave playwrights (including previous podcast guest Yolanda Mercy) talking about how they provoke rage on stage.


96 Festival at Clapham Omnibus 2 – 28 Feb
Clapham Omnibus’ festival of LGBTQ+ Theatre is named after, and in celebration of, the year in which nearby Clapham Common hosted the Pride march after-party. The programme, which seems on first look to be intriguingly experimental and refreshingly filled with women’s stories, includes Jenifer Toksvig’s solo conversation-musical about Bisexuality, Stella Duffy’s improvised show about Death. and Amie Taylor’s children’s show about two princesses finding each other, Once Upon A City.



Writer/performer Bella Heesom is reunited with the team behind her verbosely titled ‘My World Has Exploded A Little Bit’, which stimulated both our intellect and our heartstrings at Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. ‘Rejoicing…’ is an exploration of sexuality, via an investigation into the connection between the brain and the clitoris. The show’s short run at Ovalhouse in Februrary is the first of what we hope will be many chances to catch Bella’s new show in 2018.


Jubilee Lyric Hammersmith 15 Feb ‐ 10 Mar
Following a successful run in Manchester, ‘Jubilee’ (an updated adaptation of the 1978 cult film of the same name) brings its punk rock riot to London. Starring alongside Toyah Willcox are a fabulous and ferocious band of gender warriors including performance artist Travis Alabanza and founding member of Pecs Drag Kings collective Temi Wilkey.



Breaking Loose Festival Bread & Roses Theatre Feb 18 – 25
A much needed “Festival of Intersectionality and Solidarity” from the Bread and Roses artistic director Tessa Hart’s theatre company Gobin Baby. The programme has not been announced yet but if the premise is anything to go by the this could be a highlight of this London’s feminist theatre calendar.


The Great Wave National Theatre 10 March – 14 April
A family tragedy with a global political dimension, set in Japan and North Korea. Not only are we thrilled to see a mother/daughter/sister relationship at the centre of a story with international significance, but we’re super psyched for the incredible team that are bringing the story to life. The Great Wave will be directed by Tricycle Theatre’s artistic Indhu Rubasingham, with movement direction by Polly Bennett – the woman behind the groundbreaking physicality of ‘People Places and Things’ (and co-founder of The Mono Box), with a cast that features Frances Mayli McCann who was part of the phenomenal ensemble of women who made ‘Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour’ one of our favourite shows of recent years at the National.
Speaking of The Mono Box: we’re hosting a workshop for actors there on Tues January 30th. It’s going to be fun. Come along if you like passing the Bechdel test on stage.


Caroline or Change Hampstead Theatre 12 Mar – 21 April
If you missed this Olivier award-winning musical when it sold out at Chichester last year, now’s your chance to see it in London with Sharon D. Clarke reprising her acclaimed performance as the title character at Hampstead Theatre. With 5 star reviews across the board it’s not hard to imagine that this show has a West End transfer on the cards – so catch it if you can before the ticket prices soar.


Nine Night National Theatre 21 April – 26 May
Making her debut as a writer, having previously appeared on stage as an actor at the Royal Court and RSC, Natasha Gordon brings to the National stage a gathering of several generations of one family as they take part in the Jamaican Nine Night Wake ritual in mourning for their mother and grandmother, Gloria. Another excellent team taking to the Dorfman stage for this show, with a cast including Cecilia Noble, Franc Ashman, and Rebekah Murrell.


Leave Taking The Bush 24 May – 30 June
This new production of Winsome Pinnock’s hit 1991 play is part of yet another fantastic season at the Bush, which continues to go from strength-to-strength after its refurbishment under the artistic directorship of Madani Younis, for whom representation means anything but cynical “box-ticking” and more like a driving force and a reason to make theatre – to reflect the world we live in. ‘Leave Taking’ in particular is special as a 30 year-old play being staged at a theatre which normally specialises in brand new writing, which Younis has chosen to direct himself. We’re looking forward to seeing how the play, which depicts the relationships between an immigrant Mother and her English-born daughters, resonates with today’s audience.


Grotty The Bunker May 1 – 26
Fresh from the success of their ‘Damsel Develops’ project which showcased the work of female theatre directors at The Bunker in London Bridge, uber-feminist theatre company Damsel Productions are returning to the venue with a “dark and savage” brand new play about the London lesbian scene, written by Izzy Tennyson and directed by Damsel’s Artistic Director Hannah Hauer-King, who Bechdel fans may remember directed one of the short plays we showcased as part of Bechdel Testing Life at The Bunker.


Fun Home The Young Vic 18 June – 1 Sept
This is the one we’ve been waiting for! Since discovering that our hero Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir ‘Fun Home’, about her relationship with her Father had been adapted for the stage in 2013 we’ve been dreaming of the day that UK audiences would have the chance to see it. It’s a soul-searingly honest story of love, loss, and coming out in small-town America filled with a suitably tender and heart-swelling songs. Writers Lisa Kron and Jeanine Tesori both won Tony awards for their work on the show which also won Best Musical, and was nominated in almost every category in 2015. If you see one musical this year, make it Fun Home.



Bring It On Southwark Playhouse 2 Aug – Sept 1
Fans of the 2000 cheerleader comedy movie, and the work of Lin-Manuel Miranda (‘Hamilton’ and ‘In The Heights’) should be very excited. ‘Bring It On: The Musical’ was first shown in the US in 2011 where it gained momentum on tour and a Broadway transfer. Get your tickets now, if the popularity of Miranda’s musicals on London stages is anything to go by, this will be hugely in-demand and tons of fun.


Emilia Shakespeare’s Globe 10 Aug – 1 Sept
The Globe has retained its commitment to gender-balanced casting post-Emma Rice and the new artistic director, esteemed actor Michelle Terry, has some interesting ideas including director-less ensemble productions which put the performers in the driving seat of several well-known Shakespeare plays. However, the announcement that peaked our interest the most in this summer’s season was a brand new play by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, to be directed by Nicole Charles, about the life of Emilia Bassano: A 16th Century poet who by the sounds of it deserves a much bigger name for herself in the history books than being known as someone who “might have been” the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s sonnets.


Sylvia The Old Vic 1 – 22 Sept
Co-written by Kate Prince and Priya Parmar, this new musical will use dance, hip-hop, soul and funk music to tell the life of Sylvia Pankhurst and the role she played in the Suffragette movement. The production co-incides with the 100 year anniversary of the passing of the Representation of the People Act in 1918 which gave some women the right to vote for the first time, and hopefully will provide a good moment to reflect on how far society has really come in achieving true equality, and stimulation in considering what still needs to be done.
Interested in the link between artists and activism? The National Theatre is holding an Equality and Arts panel discussion on Feb 2nd chaired by Samira Ahmed, about how arts and culture have influenced and supported the equality movement in the past and today.

Did we miss something off? If you see a show that you think deserves championing, then get in touch with us on social media or drop us an email.

 

Bechdel Testing The Mono Box



The Mono Box is a London-based collaborative network who, amongst other fabulous things (running workshops, panels, and advice forums), own a collection of over 3000 plays which they regularly open for anyone who wants to browse their mighty shelves of scripts in search of monologues, duologues and general inspiration. If you haven’t visited yet, get some of these dates in your diary to join in with some of their autumn events.
All of the plays in The Mono Box’s ever-growing library are donated by industry professionals in response to the question, “If you could recommend one play to a young actor to read, what would it be?” – and many of them contain lovely handwritten messages of recommendation from their donor. It’s a brilliantly encouraging thing to pick up a text you like the look of and find a note from a personal hero or theatre legend telling you why they love this play and which line, scene, or monologue is their favourite. As a browsing experience, this is a mega step up from impersonal bookshop or library browsing – and some of the plays they’ve gathered are less often available in libraries or shops. It’s a vital resource for anyone without the disposable income to throw at ordering every play you’ve ever heard of – especially considering the sad recent closure of Samuel French’s central London bookshop.

The geniuses at The Mono Box have devised a clever page-marking system for anyone seeking great monologues or duologues – so if you’re browsing with purpose, whether you have an audition or showcase looming or just want to freshen up your repertoire, there are colour-coded tags in many of the scripts to help you find recommended scenes. This summer they’ve been taking this system further, diving in to look in more detail about the collection and explore the contents and contexts of the plays that have been donated so far.

This is where Bechdel Theatre come in!



We brought along our “Bechdel Test Pass!” stickers to identify every script in The Mono Box collection that features two women talking to each other about something other than a man. With a team of brilliant volunteers we systematically flipped through script after script, weeding out those with no female characters, and the ones where the female characters are kept separate from one another, until we came to scenes featuring two women – and this is where things get really interesting. 

The conversations provoked by the third question in the Bechdel test: “Do they talk to each other about something other than a man?” was by far the most stimulating of discussion. On discovering an interesting scene between two women, the team of volunteers would often stop to gather around, read the scene and ask more complicated questions, such as: What brought these characters together? How long do they spend talking to each other? What’s their relationship? What are they talking about? What are they REALLY talking about? Is it a turning point in the play? Is one or both of them driving the plot? If they mention a man, is he the main topic of conversation, or is it a passing reference to him amongst a deeper discussion about something more significant in their lives? 
Rummaging through The Mono Box, we found Bechdel test passing plays rare enough to be exciting, but less elusive than we expected. We were pleasantly surprised by plays we weren’t expecting to pass: older plays by male writers, plays with more men than women. We were fascinated by characters with gender unspecified, and some where women play men. The conversations surrounding the plays kept us busier than expected. Most excitingly, we found so many passes that we had to print extra stickers!

The full stats from our search are in the process of being digitalised (ooh), and will be added to as The Mono Box collection increases (if you have any scripts gathering dust on your shelves they’re open for donations). But for now, here’s a little taster of some of The Mono Box scripts that we particularly enjoyed discovering more about, and provoked some interesting discussions and debates during our week-long excavation. 



Mary Stuart – Fredrich Schiller (1800)
4f, 12m
In this classic German play, Schiller gives us not just one mighty queen but two: Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I, who meet when Catholic Mary (Queen of Scots) is imprisoned to stop her from making a claim to her English Protestant cousin’s throne. While Mary awaits Elizabeth’s declaration of her fate, various male characters arrive and stir up trouble for each of them, but ultimately Elizabeth is the one who decides Mary’s fate, and the tension between the two women entirely drives the plot of the play and their meeting provides its most compelling moments of drama.
The Almeida’s recent production of Mary Stuart gave audiences the opportunity to see two phenomenal women in their 50s (Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams) take turns playing the two lead roles (finding out who would play who on the night by tossing a coin) in a show that raised nationally relevant themes in the wake of Brexit-provoked rumblings of Scottish independence. Frequently staged across the world, any production of this play is worth its salt in that it gives experienced female actors a pair of roles that allow them to fully stretch and flex their mighty acting muscles in a play that addresses the hefty topics of politics, philosphy and religion as well as the queens’ relationships with each other and the men around them.
Robert Icke’s critically acclaimed production of Mary Stuart is transferring from The Almeida to the Duke of York’s Theatre in January 2018.

A Woman of No Importance – Oscar Wilde (1893)
7f, 8m 
The woman of the title is middle-aged single mother Mrs Arbuthnot who has struggled devotedly to bring up her son in socially restrictive and judgemental Victorian England. Gender and class prejudices and oppression intertwine and overlap knottily in this play, and Oscar Wilde’s own opinions on the subjects seem (to some) to contradict each other – he gives the villainous rake and absent father Lord Illingworth all the best lines, and the wronged Mrs Arbuthnot, despite her independence, seems to have spent years in his absence obsessing over the way he treated her. The puritanical Hester is searing in her take-down of English society’s inequalities and hypocrisy, but the women who mock her do so in a comical manner that is far more entertaining to listen to than any of her moralising. This conflict seems to be at the heart of a lot of Wilde’s work – he portrays the seductiveness of selfishness and the charming confidence of the extremely privileged with an irresistibly watchable flourish that similtaneously satirises how awful they are, and makes it easy to empathise with the characters who get taken in by them.
The plot of this play may be simple, but the issues addressed are complex and multi-layered, and the characters are appropriately well-developed and muti-faceted. Mrs Arbuthnot’s devotion to her son and her hatred for his father pull her in all directions, and give her brilliantly simultaneous inter-linked motivations. She is strong, steadfast and independent in her resistance to ‘repent’ for the affair that resulted in her son, but vulnerable and emotionally affected by the unexpected appearance of the ex, from whom she wants to escape at all costs. She’s inconsistent and changable in ways that make her seem not just human and complicated, but distinctly modern in her awareness of and anger at the society which has trapped her in the position that she finds herself in. Likewise, the moralising Hester, who far from being the stereotypical goody-goody that she seems at the beginning of the play, turns out to be the most genuine heart of it – falling in love with Mrs Arbuthnot’s son and allying herself with them in sympathy with (and not in spite of) the ‘sinful’ origins of their family. Hester recognises true goodness in people, is not for one moment seduced by Illingworth’s so-called ‘charms’, and hits the nail on the head when she addresses the English upper-classes in Act II with a line that could not ring truer today: Living, as you all do, on others and by them, you sneer at self-sacrifice, and if you throw bread to the poor, it is merely to keep them quiet for a season.”, this play gets a solid pass for that conversation, and a recommendation for actors of both Hester and Mrs Arbuthnot’s casting age to check out these fascinating characters.

A Woman of No Importance is being performed at The Vaudeville Theatre from Oct 6th until Dec 30th.

Three Sisters – Anton Chekhov (1901)
5f, 9m 
These sisters do spend an awful lot of time talking about men, which provoked some discussion amongst the Mono Box team about how long, and how deeply the women in the script should speak to each other without talking about men to count as a ‘pass’. One scene where the sisters discuss their sister-in-law Natasha’s vulgar green belt is a stand-out moment that caused some debate – is a group of women talking about clothes portraying a stereotype of ‘what women talk about’? Is their bitchiness a condemnation of female relationships? Personally I think this is a brilliant ‘sniping with subtext’ scene, which reveals their shared snobbery and belief in their superiority over their brother’s wife, a fatal underestimation of Natasha considering the power she will come to wield over their family. Others felt that a few lines about a belt in a sea of in-depth conversations about men was revealing of Checkhov’s failing to credit women with autonomy within a male-dominated society.
In the end we gave it a sticker based on the fact that Olga, Masha and Irena are all distinctly detailed characters, with complex inner lives, and none of them falls into the categories of wife, mother or sister of a more prominent male protagonist. Plus, they have the final and most famous scene in the play, which reveals the true motivations that lie behind their attachments to the men they frequently discuss: their desire to survive. 

Rita, Sue and Bob Too – Andrea Dunbar (1982)
3f, 3m 
Written when she was 19, Andrea Dunbar’s tale of two teenage girls on a council estate sleeping with a much older man was hugely impactful when it was first staged in the 80s, seen by many as a scathing indictment on the impact of Thatcher’s failure of the British working-class. Dunbar was a brilliant young writer who had recent and continuing lived experience close to the characters that she was portraying – she spent her life on the estate where she grew up, and had given birth three times before writing this play.
Rita, Sue and Bob Too was controversial in our Bechdel testing sessions due not only to the subject matter of teenage sexuality, but also the amount of time that Rita and Sue spend talking about Bob. After their first encounter with him, their lives increasingly revolve around when and where they will have sex with him again. We gave it a Bechdel test pass because not only are these girls’ authentic teenage voices a thing of beauty: loud, joyful, sometimes cynical, frequently hilarious and insightful, but they also spend a considerable amount of one scene frankly discussing their periods – which is not something we hear enough about stage, considering how many people it affects.
A new production of Rita, Sue and Bob Too, by Out of Joint is touring from September and returning to the Royal Court in Janurary.
Attempts On Her Life – Martin Crimp (1997)
Cast “Should reflect the composition of the world beyond the theatre”
Subtitled ’17 Scenarios for Theatre’ Martin Crimp’s play is famous for specifying little about the identity of either the actors or most of the characters. The title refers to the elusive Anne, who changes from one scene to the next depending on who is talking about her – she is an actress, a terrorist, car for sale – she is always seen through the eyes of others. There is no linear plot and everything about the play is left wide open to the director’s interpretation, including the casting, which Crimp specifies should “reflect the composition of the world beyond the theatre” – though how far beyond is not suggested. For this we gave it a Bechdel test sticker: real life constantly passes the test, so a production of Attempts On Her Life would be going against it’s writer’s specifications if it didn’t.
In a world where ‘default’ characters are so often seen as male, from the stickman to the everyman, the fact that Attempts on Her Life centres around a woman feels very specific. It subtly encourages the audience to consider the ‘male gaze’, and the idea that all of us see each other through the (sexist and racist) lens of the society we live in, and all of our relationships are influenced by the media and culture we consume. The world of this play feels very British, and it feels very 1997 (references to technology and pop culture date it very specifically as pre-Millenial), and though it was revived in a bells-and-whistles high tech production directed by Katie Mitchell at the National Theatre a decade ago, it would be interesting to see a post-Selfie production of it, or perhaps even a female-penned response to it, exploring how our relationship to our own image has developed in these crucial years.
nut – debbie tucker green (2013)
4f, 3m 
debbie tucker green’s reputation grows more formidable with every new play she writes. Her dialogue is all at once naturalistic and poetic, filled with banalities and colloqualisms whilst often intensely poignant, with a distinctive rhythm that draws in the audience closely in to her world from the moment the first character speaks. In nut, we’re given a startling and disturbing insight into the mind of a woman with a mental illness, through whose eyes we gradually see the world crack and crumble. Giving the audience a first-hand taste of the chaotic way in which protagonist Elayne perceives reality is tucker green’s precisely effective way of making us understand Elayne’s experience, rather than simply showing the impact of her illness on those around her. 
tucker green’s plays are full of brilliant dualogues, and she writes mainly for black actors across a huge range of settings and roles, so her plays provide beautifully rich pickings for often under-represented actors to explore – we could have picked a number of them for this list. For example: her latest play a proufoundly affectionate devotion to someone (noun) was a sold-out triumph at the Royal Court recently, which deserved to be seen by far far bigger audiences than could fit into their upstairs space. We chose nut one to recommend reading because it stands out for passing the Bechdel test in its opening scene, in which two women discuss plans for their own funerals, in a dark game where each predicts greater spectacles for how they’ll be remembered when they’re gone. It sets the tone perfectly for the play, and is the perfect introduction to the unique genius of tucker green’s writing.
Home – Nadia Fall (2013)
4f, 5m
Home is a verbatim play, made using recordings of real people’s words to form the script, based on interviews with people living and working in a hostel for young people in East London. It gives a glimpse into some of the residents lives, looking at the ups and downs of their daily lives in the block where they all stay (some more temporarily than others) in close quarters, as well as reflecting on how they reached their circumstances, and looking towards their hopes, dreams, and goals for the future.
The fact that real words are used in Home (and other verbatim plays) mean that every character has a deep and powerful truth behind them, although some of them here represent an interpretation or merging of several real people’s stories to create a narrative journey for the show. Director Nadia Fall worked sensitively in workshops that involved the hostel’s participants and, whilst maintaining anonymity, has creatively captured an essence of their reality in Home which would be impossible without including those who experienced life in the hostel. One aspect of this play which caused some discussion was the inclusion of a character called Jade who beatboxes rather than speaking, who represents some of the people that Fall couldn’t speak to, or didn’t want to be recorded when she was interviewing hostel residents. The use of beatbox as a mode of communication to portray the presence of those whose words couldn’t be included in Home raises the question of what counts as a “conversation” within the limits of the Bechdel test? The explosions of beatboxing from Jade (played by the phenomenally talented Grace Savage in the National Theatre’s production) was one of the most unforgettable aspects of the play from an audience member’s perspective. Whilst browsing The Mono Box looking for Bechdel test passes, Jade provided us with a reminder that most communication is not verbal and a strong argument for the importance of considering a character’s actions and impact (as well as the number of lines they have to say) when we’re thinking about what constitutes significant representation on stage. Women in society (especially poor women) are often silenced, and representing those women as making a difference to the world around them, and having an important inner life of their own, is no less essential than showcasing “strong female leads” who are confident women in power.
People, Places and Things – Duncan Macmillan (2015)
13m, 13f, 7 unspecified
Playing central character in People, Places and Things, propelled mega-talent Denise Gough from jobbing actor to superstar in 2015. Gough made sudden impact on the theatre industry not just with her powerful performance in the play, but also with her campaigning for gender representation with Waking The Feminists and Equal Representation for Actresses. With such a force of nature actor at it’s heart, rightly claiming all accolades and awards available that year, it would be easy to forget that People, Places and Things contains a multitude of other fine roles for actors of all genders, both monologues and duologues. The conversation between Emma and her mother at the end of the play is a serious lump-in-the-throat gut wrencher of a duologue for two women over the age of 30 (is there any greater joy than watching two gloriously skilled and experienced actresses nail a scene together at the National Theatre and then in the West End?).
Fast forward to 2017 and while Bechdel testing The Mono Box collection (where copies of People, Places and Things are understandably well-thumbed by monologue-seeking actresses) we noticed that seven of the characters in this play have their gender unspecified. Allowing for a choice of gender in casting is admirable for so many reasons: It gives flexibility for a multi-role playing ensemble of actors, it gives the director more options to find the best actor available for each of the un-gendered roles and allows them the choice to give more jobs to female, non-binary, or gender-fluid actors if they wish. It’s a win-win situation for everyone involved and is one of the many reasons why this play is sure to be revived with frequency and freshness for a long time to come.
People, Places and Things is touring the UK from September 22nd with Lisa Dwyer Hogg in the lead role, and begins it’s New York run at St Ann’s Warehouse on October 19th with Denise Gough returning to the role.
 
Boys Will Be Boys – Melissa Bubnic (2016)
6f – All characters, including men, are played by female actors.
A cabaret-style play about bankers addressing all the things you’d expect a show about bankers to consider: capitalism, greed, selfishness, exploitation, loneliness and of course toxic masculinity. The twist is that every character, male or female, is played by a woman. The effect is that the male characters filtered through a female actor’s body and mind become magnificently on-point satirical portraits of old-school sexist bosses and their racist and entitled public school underlings. The grossness of their attitude and position is enhanced, while a level of actual threat is removed – we don’t have to see any sex or rape scenes featuring male actors looming ominously over female ones, which is a relief: this play treads some uncomfortable but important ground when addressing both of those issues and the all-female cast is a reassuring buffer to any lines that could be crossed.
Whilst the male characters in Boys Will Be Boys provide stomach-turningly close-to-the-bone satire, the female characters contain more multitudes – there is proper depth to their personalities and motivations. Though some of the women’s aims in life seem materialistic, their deeper pain and passions are revealed through songs and many private conversations. In Boys Will Be Boys, Melissa Bubnic has found a canny way of centring female experiences and perspectives, and passing the Bechdel test with flying colours, whilst exploring the male-dominated world of finance – and while she’s at it, Bubnic writes top roles under-represented women: older women, BAME women, masculine-presenting women, can all be cast in solid three-dimensional parts with high-stakes, high-status and deep flaws, without having to wait for a director to come along and gender-swap something Shakespearean. 
Girls – Theresa Ikoko (2016)
3f
Based on news stories of young women kidnapped by Boko Haram, Theresa Ikoko vividly imagines three teenage girls support each other during their imprisonment in Girls. Showing only the perspectives of the girls themselves, Ikoko avoids showing directly the darkest details of their story (except through some nightmarish descriptions), giving the audience a chance to laugh with these three close friends as they cheer themselves up cracking jokes, and entertain each other with high-energy impersonations of TV shows and politicians. She shows the girls’ suffering and resilience without sentimentalising their tenacity or defining them as victims. Tisana, Haleema, and Ruhab are women like those seen on the news in large groups banded together by their trauma, but on stage in Girls they are portrayed as individuals with vibrant and distinctive personalities.
The play’s focus – more on the girls’ relationship that their circumstances – means that as we gradually become aware of the grave situation they’re in and recognise it as based on a contemporary reality, the impact is sharp, deep and long-lasting. Audiences watching this play feel distance disappear as the intimate time we spend with these girls, they’re humans rather than pixels on a TV screen, real live girls whose playful teasing we recognise from any school ground in the world. When they talk about the brutality of the men who hold them captive and the empty rhetoric of politicians and foreigners expressing concern before moving on to the next big news story, their message becomes crystal clear. Girls makes it impossible for anyone watching (or reading) to forget the lives of the young women behind headlines and tweets about kidnappings and trafficking (Ikoko points out that this happens everywhere in the world, not just Nigeria). As Haleema says: “What on earth do you want to do with a hashtag? Can you use it to shoot your way out of here?”. By passing the Bechdel test with flying colours (because they have more to talk about than their captors) the conversations in this play give girls imprisoned everywhere a powerful voice that sets their humanity apart from their status as captives, and should be heard all over the world. 
Girls is touring in September and October, to Suffolk, Salisbury, Walthamstow and Plymouth
That’s all for now!


We’ll be at some of The Mono Box workshops and Speech Surgeries this Autumn. Do come and say hi if you see us with our stickers, and let us know if you come across a play or scene that inspires you.

Happy Bechdel testing!




Edinburgh Fringe 2017 – our #FeministFaves

Here it is, folks! The full list of our favourite shows from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, in more detail than expected (we may have got carried away). There’s just over a week left of the festival, so if you’re in town and haven’t seen these shows yet, get booking ASAP.

If you’re all fringed out, or didn’t make it to the festival, get these productions on your radar – Edinburgh is a springboard for successful shows to tour off the back of, so they’ll be likely to pop up again on a stage near you.

As with our longer pre-fringe shows to see list, we’ve grouped these by venue and time to make it easier to plan if you’re on a tight schedule. This list includes both solid Bechdel test passes, and female-led shows that we feel are worth bending the test’s critera to include.

For in-depth interviews with some of our #FeministFaves subscribe to our podcast, and for constant updates on Bechdel test passing shows and up-to-the-minute #FeministFringe #TopTips follow us on twitter and instagram.

Out of Love @ Summerhall Roundabout 13:25 

A starkly truthful and sweetly funny story of the friendship between two girls as they grow up and part ways. Sharp writing from Elinor Cook and superb performances from a cast who spring from child to teenage to adult roles (and back again) in the split-second of a lighting change, with the deft unwavering confidence of gymnasts, and no props whatsoever. Out of Love perfectly captures the intensity of best-friendship between girls, and the lasting impact such early connections can have on women’s lives and relationships, even beyond adolescence. 
Out of Love is performed in Paines Plough’s accessible and ingeniously constructed pop-up theatre, Roundabout, which this year is home to five Bechdel test passing plays: see their full list.


#FeministFringe #TopTip: The selection of variously sized spaces filled with excellent female-led shows of all genres make Summerhall the perfect venue to spend a day at if you want to settle in to one spot and avoid lengthy treks through the rain between shows.

Salt @ Summerhall Northern Stage 14:30

Selina Thompson took a journey on a ship tracing the steps of her ancestors on the transatlantic slave trade route via Belgium, Ghana, Jamaica and the US. In Salt, she tells the story of her own journey so vividly that the sights, sounds and smells of the places become intensely present in the room – from her parents cosy home in Birmingham, to the claustrophobic bowels of the ship and dank castle dungeons where slaves were held. Thompson gains the trust of her audience immediately with her steady and direct tone of voice and eye contact, and maintains it. Her connection with us never strays from being sharply in the moment, while her story covers years. The memory of the people whose enslavement brought us all to this point fizzes palpably in the air throughout the performance, increasingly impossible to ignore, with the image of Thompson breaking up salt crystals etched deeply in the minds of all leaving Summerhall after seeing this show.

The Edinburgh run of Salt is sold out but we strongly advise asking about returns and seeking out Selina Thompson post-Fringe, her work is essential and unmissable.

Box Clever @ Roundabout Summerhall 16:40

A new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter, written and performed by Monsay Whitney, with singer-songwriter Avi Simmons providing live music, beautiful clowning, and a multitude of surrounding characters. Simmons does a sterling job switching between these many roles, and is especially lovely as daughter Autumn, but unfortunately had a few lines in a Jamaican accent for one character, which was jarring and could be reconsidered. Whitney’s writing and performance in this show is phenomenal, her protagonist is a perfectly pitched complex portrayal of a woman persisting as she is challenged to breaking point by abuse and bureaucracy. Our hearts break with hers as she tries to bring up her four-year-old in a world where most other adults seem toxic, weak or uncaring. Throughout this tale of adversity Whitney never allows a hint of stereotypes often tied to female-led tragic narratives: inspirational strong woman, or weeping mis-treated damsel, but is she always truly, refreshingly, devastatingly human.


You’ve Changed @ Summerhall Northern Stage 20:30

Kate O’Donnell transitioned in 2003 before the term ‘transgender’ even existed. Her insight into how the world and attitudes to gender have (and haven’t) changed is fun, witty, deeply personal, and brilliantly educational. Her hilariously matter-of-fact conversation with her own vagina wins the Bechdel Theatre award for most creative woman-alone-on-stage passing of the Bechdel test!

You’ve Changed is a show for everyone from the most gender-aware to those just discovering trans 101, O’Donnell is a welcoming host, ready to share her wisdom with anyone willing to learn. This accomplished performer and obviously fantastically intelligent woman could be a guiding light for anyone going through the ‘coming out’ process that she embarked on 15 years ago, and her show should be essential viewing for any cisgender fringe-goers with trans friends or family (which is most of us, whether we realise it or not).

Dollywould @ Summerhall 21:15

Sh!t Theatre f*cking love Dolly Parton, and so do we. This is not a sing-along-a jukebox musical, but is also not the socio-political documentary style that’s come to be expected from performance art darlings Sh!t Theatre. Their ‘main-stage crossover hit’, is duly getting the bums-on-seats that their ever-growing reputation has earned, and lives up to all our hopes and expectations that have built up from hearing that this show is a “new direction” for the duo. There’s not much more that can be said without spoilers, but think about all your favourite aspects of Dolly herself and you’ll find them in the show: tits, glitter, uncompromising frankness, catchy hooks, vulnerability that’s strictly on the performer’s terms, and (as anyone who REALLY follows Dolly will know) a genius air of seductive mystery.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: The chippy up the road if you turn left outside Summerhall were way cheaper than the food vans inside, and they didn’t mind at all that we spent the time waiting for our food performing our own rendition of 9-to-5

Workshy @ Summerhall 21:10

The box office assistant asked if we were squeamish before handing over the tickets to this performance by Katy Baird. It’s a frank chronological explanation of the all the ways Baird has paid the bills over the years, with photos, video, a multitude of props, and some touchingly intimate personal anecdotes filling in detail between the lines of a CV which took her from burger flipping to live art.
Baird makes us aware of our relationship to her and to each other as viewers in a number of creative ways, the first is by asking for pay transparency via raised hands at the beginning of the show. This sets the tone for the level of involvement she asks of the audience (not very much), and the level of open-mindedness that should be brought into the room if you want to get the most out of the show (plenty). We won’t spoil the rest of the fantastic ways that Katy Baird plays with and unites her crowd, except to say that we loved every moment, even the one that had some of the audience’s high-earners shielding their eyes.

Eggs Collective Get A Round @ Summerhall  21:10

This lively ensemble piece from multi-talented comics Eggs Collective takes the audience along on a night out with three women. In identical sequined dresses the women begin as one giggling group, but the trio is gradually unravelled by each of the characters unique voices, vices and virtues as they take us step by messy step on a chaotic weekend.

Eggs Collective’s show is deeper than it first appears, and without saying too much, we related to the way these women’s joyous jokes and pop-theme tunes turned to tears, their woes weighed down by a level of self- and world-awareness not often afforded to representations of noisy, sparkly women.
They give you a drink too!

Rachel Creeger: It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl @ Black Market 13:40

Rachel Creeger’s jokes are not just for the Jewish – this English Atheist was laughing as heartily at this performance as the Jewish American family beside us, who related so avidly that they waved their Kosher food-finding app upon its mention during the set. Although the title makes reference to a version of Orthodoxy which bans women from performing to mixed audiences, and relays tales from Creeger’s years singing for female-only audiences in a successful Jewish girl band, this show seems to balance on the perfect line both welcoming the devout with in-jokes and tickling the non-believers with insight. Everyone in this cosy little pub, minutes from the soul-testing Mile, was equally warmed by Creeger’s sweet ‘supply-teacher’ demeanour, and thrilled by the witty edge of her punchlines.

Ada Campe and The Psychic Duck @ CC Blooms 15:00

Variety legend (and comedy alter-ego of renowned feminist academic Naomi Paxton) Ada Campe returns to the Fringe with a wildly eccentric storytelling show inspired by the the music hall, circus and burlesque characters of fairground history. The name of this show correctly implies a hefty level of silliness, so keep that spirit in mind on arrival, but there is more to expect than just ridiculous (excellent) animal puns: Psychic Duck is peppered with wicked punchlines, gently chaotic audience participation, and ingenious magic. In a nostalgic setting and narrative style that will be familiar to fans of Victorian and Edwardian sensationalist crime drama, Ada Campe (who DIVA magazine described as an ‘unhinged supervillain’, and we see as the kind of lady Edina and Patsy would have get sloshed with and snogged, had they been around in the 1920s) weaves a tale of showbiz legends, female companionship, and achieving your dreams – however outrageous they might seem.

London Hughes: Superstar @ C Royale 19:15

One of our many Fringe hosts, as we surfed from generous person’s couch to welcoming person’s floor, told us that London Hughes used to be a kids TV presenter. I don’t know what image that conjures for you – but Blue Peter this show is not. London Hughes is an incredible human whirlwind of talents, with her unstoppable energy the only thing recognisably ‘kids telly’ about her. Hughes astute observations on life bounce skillfully between the personal and political. She frames an hour of stand-up and sketches around a list of all the ways she’s tried to get famous, leaping from fabulous dance routines to searing race commentary, pushing the line of audience interaction in a way that only someone so hugely likeable could get away with.  She never lingers on one topic or routine for longer than a minute, which makes this hour fly but simultaneously feel like 2 hours worth of material. If it weren’t for the ache in our faces and bellies from laughing, we’d have gladly stayed for an encore, and will certainly be back for more in future.


#FeminstFringe #TopTip: C Venues Royale (where London Hughes is playing), and CC Blooms (where Ada Campe is on) are on the other side of the bridge from most of the other venues we visited, but are near loads of shops and cafes, so if you want a break from being flyered constantly, need to nip into M&S buy a cardi or some pants, or fancy a sit-down vegan lunch at Henderson’s Cafe, work that into your day between these two!
Also, CC Blooms is a fabulous LGBTQ+ nightspot, if you feel the urge for a bit of late night dancing.

Mae Martin: Dope @ Laughing Horse at City Cafe 20:00

Mae Martin is another human whirlwind who made the time disappear before our eyes as we were completely absorbed her world. The world in which this show takes place is Martin’s mind, which is inhabited by an imagined creature who’s hungry for the dopamine that the show’s title refers to (it’s more about psychology than drugs, though drugs do come up). Martin is some whose life is a bullet list of one involving obsession or addiction after another. This show is particularly relateable for anyone who grew up as one of those ‘weird’ kids with fixations on a celebrity or hobby, and will recognise themselves with the kind of cringe-laugh that constantly threatens to turn into uncontrollable tears. If that’s not you, you almost certainly know someone like that, and will laugh almost as hard: Martin’s decades of experience on the comedy scene mean she has a mad-genuis-like awareness of how to connect with her crowd, and (given the potentially sensitive nature of some topics) takes perfect care of every individual in this crammed underground nightclub space.

#FeministFringe #TopTip: Get to City Cafe early and queue to ensure entry, Mae Martin is as popular as she deserves to be and will almost certainly be impossible to see in such an intimate space before too long. If you miss Dope at 8pm, or want to see more after it, Mae Martin also has an improv show later in the evening which she shares with a man, but is also good fun.

Georgie Morrell: Morrell Highground @ Underbelly Med Quad

Georgie Morrell (who’s at the Fringe in two shows: this and her first show ‘A Poke In The Eye’, on at Cabaret Voltaire at 20:30) talks extensively and hilariously about her experience of temporarily going blind in both eyes (having been seeing with one eye for most of her life). She goes into particular detail and depth telling us about the NHS doctors and staff who have treated her, and the ludicrous process of being assessed for her benefits. Morrell’s style is wryly self-deprecating, only dipping briefly into sweetness when playing clips of her parents talking alongside family photos, frequently giving an edge to any hint of cute by sending herself up for being ‘spoilt’ and a ‘daddy’s girl’. Though the audience sympathise with her health troubles and arduous run-ins with bureaucrats, we never feel pitying or voyeuristic, Morrell’s responsive chats with the audience and confidence in her punchlines make her seem like the kind of natural comic that you could spend all day in the company of – you’ll come out of this show feeling like you’ve made a new pal – one who we’d readily march alongside, should we bump into her at to a ‘Save Our NHS’ protest any time soon.

Good Girl @ Just The Tonic in the Mash House 13:00

Naomi Sheldon is a triple threat: actor, writer and comic, and Good Girl is a virtuoso demonstration of all three of these expertly-honed skills. Sheldon sweeps up the audience in a torrent of warm bubbling energy and has us captivated from the second the lights go up as she tells a simple story which could sound trite on paper: a coming of age tale of a woman learning how to process her own emotions. The plot is much more than that (we don’t wanna spoil it!), but the real magnet for our undivided attention is Sheldon’s physical and vocal transformations as she brings to life every character that her protagonist GG encounters on her journey to adulthood: childhood friends, teachers, and employers are all played for laughs without ever being stereotypes, or detracting from the emotional crux of the story.


#FeministFringe #TopTip: We don’t think many of the Just The Tonic venues have raked seating, so if you’re short like us get there early to pick your seats!

Evelyn Mok: Hymen Manoeuvre @ Pleasance Courtyard 18:00

As the name suggests, this is a show about Mok losing her virginity. While the inevitably awkward ‘first time’ provides an ingenious title and a warm chuckle of audience pathos when she asks if ANYONE has a good time losing their virginity, this is not purely a show about sex (or lack of it). It’s about everything in life that brought Mok to That Night – from her experiences growing up speaking English and Swedish with an Indian accent, to the advice, strength and body-image issues passed down through generations of Chinese women in her family. Mok does not always allow her audience to settle in comfortably, or expect us to relate to every aspect her unique story: she keeps us on our toes at all times, but her wry self-awareness and compellingly confident stage presence mean we’re always rooting for her (in a way that we never do for Amy Schumer, who gets name-checked as a comparison on her flyer). Hymen Manoeuvre left us eager to find out what happens in the next chapter of Evelyn Mok’s life as she hits her 30s, and looking forward to hearing more from her in the future.

DIGS @ Pleasance Courtyard 13:45

Devising duo Theatre with Legs have created this dark comedy about Generation Rent, overdrafts, anxiety and surviving their 20s. A mix of not-entirely-stylised awkward dialogue between two housemates, overlapping finish-each-others-sentences direct address, and beautifully expressive solo scenes by each performer alone on stage, Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow have chemistry that simmers, sometimes with synchronicity and sometimes with conflict and tension. At times uncomfortable – especially for anyone who has ever felt alone whilst living in a shared flat in a big city – this show and the relationships it explores are both clearly deeply personal, almost universally recognisable, and electric to watch.


Offside @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:40

Fresh from a successful tour, Offside is a poetic drama, co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, based on the lives of female footballers, from the 1880s up to the present day. The three-strong cast lived up to the athleticism of their characters with dynamic performances, all of them switching between characters and accents seamlessly to tell a series of overlapping stories of inspirational individuals, with the kind of rousing feminist battlecry moments that guarantee a lump in the throat and a fire in the belly for the impassioned crowds it’s attracting.

We chatted to Tanya Loretta Dee about her role in Offside on our podcast (out soon).


Cathy @ Pleasance Dome 15:30

A play about homelessness today, inspired by the film Cathy Come Home, and based on stories of people who have been homeless, are currently homeless, or at risk of homelessness. All characters are realistically detailed and played with precision and humanity by a small team of actors, and their circumstances are enragingly true-to-life. We believe in every setting as we travel alongside Cathy between flats and hostels, on buses and on streets, thanks to an ingenious Fringe-friendly set constructed from unstable-looking giant Jenga-block walls which crumble and are rebuilt everytime Cathy relocates.


Cardboard Citizens ‘Legislative Theatre’, with it’s post-show law-making session, means that the audience is left feeling the urge to channel our anger and sadness into actions, to get involved in campaigns to change the systems that we’ve seen impact Cathy, rather than wallowing in helpless guilt.

Hot Brown Honey @ Assembly Roxy 21:00

Undoubtedly the fiery-est feminist hit show of last year’s Fringe, the system-smashing cabaret burlesque show is back, with “lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment”. With DJ Busty Beatz at the helm, the team of formidable female superstars from a range of different artforms and backgrounds are making noise and taking up space gloriously from the moment the doors to Assembly Roxy are open.

This show is a blast of intersectional celebration and rage, consisting of a series of stunningly executed dance, circus and musical set-pieces. Particularly memorable are the cuttingly hilarious white-woman-on-holiday hula-hoop dance, the fuck-your-stereotypes maid costumes and Polynesian weaving routine, and a gut-wrenching aerial performance which will stick with you for ever. Then there is the beatboxing, and the incredible singing. We could go on. But just as it gets tempting to see these women as unstoppable superheroes decolonising the world one-song-and-dance-routine at a time, their impassioned raffle to raise money for childcare and pointed reminder to buy their merch lets us know that the mission of this show is very much in progress and the revolution can’t continue without finances. So make sure you bring plenty of CASH with you when you see the show, and pay big to keep the honey flame burning bright!

Britney in: John @ Bedlam Theatre 18:30

The team behind last year’s brain-tumour comedy, best friends Charly and Ellen, are back with a sketch show about a road trip across America that they took as 18-year-olds trying to make a documentary about American masculinity called ‘In Search of John Hancock’.
Ellen and Charly have honed and developed their unique style of storytelling since we last saw them (it’s a mix of their personal story, interspersed with pop-culture-inspired sketches), and the response seems to be an even higher laugh-per-minute-rate from their audience than their previous show (which was pretty high)  – though maybe it’s just easier for us to engage with a light-hearted piss-take of earnest 18-year-old documentary makers than it is to find the LOLs in cancer?

Video evidence of their earnest docu-attempt in ‘John’ really adds an extra layer of humour to this show, and the simple but specific skewering of themselves and the world around them in their sketches showcases their skills brilliantly – they use no props except two stools, and wear their matching ‘John Hancock’ t-shirts at all times. If you want a guaranteed laugh, go to this show. If you want to hear more about it, listen out for our interview with Britney’s Charly and Ellen (Ellen and Charly?) on the upcoming episode of Bechdel Theatre Podcast, recorded live at Gilded Balloon with Funny Women.



#FeministFringe #TopTip Funny Women Fest is on at noon every day at Gilded Balloon Teviot, and they have a different line-up of female stand-ups, comedy actors, and sketch groups every day. It’s a great way to start your day, so bring a coffee and your diary in case you discover an act that you want to fit in to see more of later in the day!

Show Me The Money @ Bedlam Theatre (finished on the 13th)

Paula Varjack uses her own long career as the narrative backdrop for a funny, searing and extremely watchable exploration of how art is funded. Varjack demonstrates the hoops required to jump through, boxes to be ticked, admin to be filed, in order to fund art and dismantles with vigour and glitter the idea that you can’t call yourself an artist unless you make money from art.
This was the second show we saw that asked for pay transparency from its audience (the other was Workshy – see above), and there was an audience member sat near us on £70k+! – we hope he has made a hefty investment into Varjack’s work – Show Me the Money is valuable viewing for artists and non-artists alike and we’d love to see it tour extensively beyond the Fringe and reach as wide an audience as possible.

We Are Not Afraid @ Just The Tonic at The Caves 18:45

Roisin and Chiara are Pippa’s favourite ever comedy double act. They have synchronicity like no other duo we’ve seen, as well as each possessing their own individual talents and distinctive physicality. It’s a perfect match.
These two fearless improv geniuses bring a dazzling array of character sketches to life on a scale that threatens to knock the audience off their folding chairs and burst the seams of their modest venue in the caves. This was easily the paciest of all the shows we saw at the Fringe, so if you’re feeling fatigued we advise planting yourself on the front row of this riotous rampage of larger-than-life characters in deliciously surreal situations. Wear your mac on your lap because it may get messy.

Quarter Life Crisis @ Underbelly Cowgate 14:40

Yolanda Mercy uses original music and spoken word in her quest to achieve adulthood. Alicia is a fictional character but we sense that her voice and experiences are not far from Yolanda Mercy’s own. Mixing up the real and imaginary allows Mercy to create a distinctive and realistic character in Alicia, and a neat structure that takes us from her bedroom to a family wedding, via a sweet Tinder date, with the tug of her busy London Millennial life and her Nigerian family and history pulling her in all directions at once  as she interrogates and affirms all aspects of her own identity and place in the world. This show is gorgeously uplifting, and Mercy’s presence as a performer is pure sunshine in the dark caves of Underbelly Cowgate. There were certainly happy tears in the audience when we saw Quarter Life Crisis, and word of mouth is spreading quickly of this astounding new talent, so get in to see it while you can.
Listen to our interview with Yolanda and director Jade Lewis on the most recent episode of our podcast, recorded just before they left for the Fringe.

Prom Kween @ Underbelly Cowgate 20:35

Rebecca Humphries’ new musical is set firmly in the world of the American High School familiar to British audiences countless movies (think Grease, Hairspray, Mean Girls, Clueless etc) and it’s plot centres around the recognisable popularity contest in which characters compete to become Prom Queen at the end of the school year.
Prom Kween has two unique aspects which make it stand out from its Hollywood peers: Firstly, the awareness of gender as a spectrum rather than a binary – our outcast hero does not identify as either male or female, show’s host is a splendid queen (familiar to lovers of TV’s Drag Race). Secondly, Prom Kween’s dry humour and many layers of irony and cheekiness mean that despite its All-American setting, this show has a particularly British appeal that it’s screen counterparts don’t.
Prom Kween is a joyful pick-me-up right from the beginning (we were offered glitter to decorate our faces on arrival), and you can hear more about it on the next episode of our podcast (out soon).

That’s all for this year!

For more detail on some of these shows, including interviews recorded live from the fringe, check out our Podcast, and keep following us on twitter where we’ll be retweeting ALL the shows that pass the Bechdel test.

And our final, most important #FeministFringe #TopTip: if you’re running short on time and budget to see shows at Edinburgh, check out this mural on the front of Assembly George Square Theatre for the best booking advice possible…

Edinburgh Fringe 2017


It’s that time again… We’re preparing to head up to Edinburgh Fringe, where we’ll be highlighting shows that pass the Bechdel test, celebrating women on stage, championing gender-conscious and female-led theatre, and doing all we can to help you find shows where women are not completely absent.

If you’re up at the Fringe, make sure you look out for our stamps and stickers on posters all around the city (and let us know if you see a show that we haven’t highlighted yet).




(PS podcasting, stickering, being in Edinburgh all costs £££ and Bechdel Theatre receives no public funding, if you want to help us to support the improvement of gender representation on stage, you can make a donation, or become a Patron.)






Now, onto the recommendations! These are some Edinburgh shows that we reckon will *probably* pass the test, and definitely sound like they’re worth seeing. To help you plan what to see, and when, we’ve organised them by venue and time-slot – because we know how hectic Fringe-going can be. 

When we see shows we REALLY love, we’ll be adding them to our list of Edinburgh Fringe #FeministFaves – so keep an eye on that list too – it’s shorter but has more detail!


See you there!


GOOD BETS FOR BECHDEL TESTERS


Plays, comedy double acts, sketch shows, dance companies, circus troupes and cabaret collectives that we’re pretty sure feature at least two women.



DIGS @ Pleasance Courtyard 13:45
Devising duo Theatre with Legs have created this dark comedy about Generation Rent, overdrafts, anxiety and surviving their 20s. One of our #FeministFaves.

Dr Carnesky’s Incredible Bleeding Woman @ Pleasance Courtyard 14:00

A burlesque show about periods, featuring a stellar line-up of menstruators, and a liiiittle bit of blood.

Super Happy Story (About Feeling Super Sad) @ Pleasance Courtyard 14:20

A cheery tale about a young woman with clinical depression, from Olivier Award winning playwright Jon Brittain (‘Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho’ & ‘Rotterdam’).

Buzz @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:30

A new musical about the history of vibrators, what more do you need to know? Catch this before it’s success makes it impossible to get tickets for.

Offside @ Pleasance Courtyard 15:40

Fresh from a successful tour, Offside is a poetic drama, co-written by Sabrina Mahfouz and Hollie McNish, based on the lives of female footballers, from the 1880s up to the present day. One of our #FeministFaves.





This Really Is Too Much @ Underbelly Cowgate 15:20

Gracefool combine dancing with dark comedy to delve into a world of farcical stereotypes and preposterous power struggles, wrestling with gender, identity and social convention.

Our Carnal Hearts @ Summerhall Roundabout 11:00
With a raucous chorus of original music, award-winning theatre maker Rachel Mars and four belting female singers bring you a gleeful, dark show about the hidden workings of envy.

Out of Love @ Summerhall Roundabout 13:25 
A new play by Elinor Cook about the close friendship between two girls as they grow up and take different directions in adulthood. One of our #FeministFaves.

No Show @ Summerhall 16:15

A contemporary all-female circus about the reality behind the flawless smiles and perfect execution: showcasing the wobbles, the pain, and the real cost of aiming for perfection.

Box Clever @ Summerhall Roundabout 16:40

A new play about one woman’s experience of a refuge and a mother’s commitment to do the best for her daughter. One of our #FeministFaves.

Love+ @ Summerhall 19:10
Love+ is a one-woman two-hander about the inevitability of human/robot relationships by Irish theatre company Malaprop. 

Eggs Collective Get A Round @ Summerhall  21:10
A wayward exploration of friendship, kindness and belonging that spills out towards its audience. Eggs Collective wonder if the basic principles of a good night out might make the world a better place. One of our #FeministFaves.

Dollywould – Sh!t Theatre @ Summerhall 21:15
Sh!t Theatre F*cking love Dolly Parton, and so do we. We also loved last year’s offering from this award-winning performance duo. One of our #FeministFaves.

The Vagina Dialogues – The Völvas – Upper Church Summerhall 12:30

A cabaret-style theatre and variety piece that includes a series of episodic monologues, duologues, and movement pieces set to live music.


Funny Women Fest @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 12:00
A merry lunchtime mix of comedy, variety and conversation, with different funny women guests on every day.

Notflix @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 15:00

This improvised musical comedy is different every night, but always aces the Bechdel test.

Siblings @ Gilded Balloon Teviot 23:30

A raucous journey into the absurdity of an all too familiar world. Suitable for anyone who has or has seen a sister. ‘Watch out for these gals’ (Jennifer Saunders). ‘Hilarious’ (Dawn French). ‘Really funny’ (Miranda Hart).

Fémage à Trois @ Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre 15:30
A brand-new trilogy of independent stories, told by the women central to them, as they battle with their demons.

Mother’s Ruin: A Cabaret about Gin @ Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre 18:15
A Cabaret about Gin: does what it says on the tin. Also the two performers promise that a g&t is included in the ticket price. Bottoms up!

Mouthpiece @ CanadaHub King’s Hall
Two performers express the inner conflict that exists within a modern woman’s head: the push and the pull, the past and the present, the progress and the regression.

Under my Thumb @ Assembly Roxy 16:10

In a dystopian present, five women are imprisoned for crimes against society. Shortlisted for the inaugural RED Women’s Theatre Awards in 2016.

Hot Brown Honey @ Assembly Roxy 21:00

Undoubtedly the fiery-est feminist hit show of last year’s Fringe, the system-smashing cabaret burlesque show is back, with “lashings of sass and a hot pinch of empowerment”. Don’t miss it. One of our #FeministFaves.



Matter of Race @ Mint Studio at Greenside Infirmary Street 11:35

A story of two girls with identical lives, with one difference: the colour of their skin. Through physical theatre, spoken word, dance and song Zakiya Theatre Company explore just how much the colour of their skin affects their day-to-day treatment in society.

Britney in: John @ Bedlam Theatre 18:30

The team behind last year’s brain-tumour comedy are back with a sketch show about a road trip across America. One of our #FeministFaves.

We Are Not Afraid @ Just The Tonic at The Caves 18:45

Roisin & Chiara are Pippa’s favourite ever comedy double act. Surreal storytelling ‘improvising geniuses’ bring to life a plethora of irresistibly well-observed character vignettes. One of our #FeministFaves.

Scene @ Paradise in Augustines 16:45
Two women decide to write a play about their interracial queer relationship. Funny, honest and explosively entertaining, this piece of new writing is an exploration of race, gender, sexuality, family and what it means to love someone who doesn’t look like you. 

Hotter @ Paradise in Augustines 22:45

Hotter asked everyone, from grannies to drag artists: ‘What gets you hot?’ Joined by the voices of women and non-binary people interviewed around the country, two women are embarking on a battle against embarrassment using sketch theatre, song and dance.

Manic Pixie Dream Girls @ Laughing Horse at The Counting House 01:00 (from Aug 13)

This show bills itself as a late-nght antidote to “Pale, Stale, Male Comedy”. Hosts Sophie Duker and Erin Simmons share the stage with a different guest each night. We LOVED these Dream Girls last year, and can’t wait to see more from them.


BECHDEL FRIENDLY SOLOS
Stand-ups and one-woman shows that make it well worth stretching the limits of the Bechdel test to include. Because sometimes quality is as valuable as quantity.


Njambi McGrath: Breaking Black @ Laughing Horse at the Counting House 12:05
Spat on and told to go back to the jungle, Njambi explores the patriotism of immigrants in their new home and dwells on her own experiences as a Kenyan-born UK resident. She is Breaking Black and loving it.

Half Breed @ Assembly George Square Theatre 12:20
Trust me, around here I’m about as black as it goes…’ a partly autobiographical dark comedy by Natasha Marshall, presented by Soho Theatre and Talawa Theatre Company.

Desiree Burch: Unf*ckable @ Bobs BlundaBus 22:00
The 2015 Funny Women Award-winner presents her second comedy hour on sex, race and capitalism.

Quarter Life Crisis @ Underbelly Cowgate 14:40
Yolanda Mercy uses original music and spoken word in her quest to achieve adulthood. Listen to our interview with Yolanda and director Jade Lewis on our podcastOne of our #FeministFaves.




Dust @ Underbelly Cowgate 16:40
Milly Thomas, has written and performs this solo show about a woman forced to watch the aftermath of her suicide and its ripple effect on her family and friends.

Georgie Morrell: Morrell Highground @ Underbelly Med Quad 15:00
Can Georgie save the NHS? Are NHS doctors hotter than private ones?! Why can’t disability be mega LOLz? Taking you through her bizarre and hilarious journey, find out how Georgie sees disability through her one eye! One of our #FeministFaves.

Athena Kugblenu: KMT @ Underbelly Med Quad 17:50
KMT – acronym for the Caribbean Patois expression ‘kiss mi teeth’, a mouth gesture used to show annoyance – is a debut hour that finds a new way to talk about politics, class, race and identity at a time both ends of the political spectrum couldn’t be any further apart.

A Robot in Human Skin @ Underbelly Med Quad 20:30
Nicole Henriksen’s fresh, truthful, and heartfelt look at mental health and the ways we treat and understand it. Come take a look into a different mind and see how you like the ride.

The Unmarried @ Underbelly Med Quad 22:35
Written and performed by Lauren Gauge, The Unmarried mixes 90s rave with ‘striking, savage, rare writing talent’, and has had sell-out runs at Lyric Hammersmith and Camden People’s Theatre.

Ava Campe and The Psychic Duck @ CC Blooms 15:00
A show about spirit waterfowl, wonderful women and a fairground mystery that occured on the Welsh coast many moons ago. DIVA said Ada Campe ‘resembles an unhinged super-villain’, and we agree (in the best possible way). One of our #FeministFaves.

Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone @ Traverse Theatre (times vary 5-13th Aug)

Josette Bushell-Mingo intertwines stories from her own life and career with Nina Simone’s story and music from a live band.

Eggsistentialism @ Summerhall 13:00
Looking down the barrel of her final fertile years, one modern woman goes on a comical quest to uncover the ifs, hows and crucially the whys of reproducing her genes.  

Salt @ Summerhall Northern Stage 14:30
In February 2016, two artists got on a cargo ship to retrace one of the routes of the Transatlantic Slave Triangle – from the UK to Ghana to Jamaica and back. This show is what they brought back. One of our #FeministFaves.

Pike St @ Summerhall Roundabout 15:00

Award-winning Nilaja Sun breathes life into a vibrant mix of Lower East Side residents in her latest solo show.




Workshy @ Summerhall 21:10
Looking through the lens of labour, Workshy is a powerful and honest portrayal of the relationship between class and aspiration. One of our #FeministFaves.

Rachel Creeger: It’s No Job for a Nice Jewish Girl @ Black Market 13:40
With a face that shouts ‘Xmas’ but a soul that screams ‘Hanukkah’, Rachel Creeger has always felt like she has a foot in two worlds. A debut solo stand-up comedy show exploring the drive to fit in, with a bit about being a pop star. One of our #FeministFaves.

Mae Martin: Dope @ Laughing Horse at City Cafe 20:00
Mae shines a light on that one weird shrimp we all have in our brains that is happy to pursue short-term pleasure, despite knowing the long-term negative consequences. She asks: who are we when we’re not addicted? One of our #FeministFaves.

Good Girl @ Just The Tonic in the Mash House 13:00
Frank, funny debut storytelling from Naomi Sheldon, in association with Old Red Lion Theatre and Bruised Sky Productions. A bold, provocative look at the darker side of being a good girl. One of our #FeministFaves.

Twayna Mayne: Black Girl @ Pleasance Courtyard 16:45
Twayna Mayne is a strong black woman with an extraordinary back story. In her highly anticipated debut hour, join this truly unique rising star as she guides us through a lifetime of labels and contradiction.

Evelyn Mok: Hymen Manoeuvre @ Pleasance Courtyard 18:00
Award-winning Swedish comedian explores first-generation guilt, intersectionality and adult virginity in this confident, smart and highly anticipated debut show. One of our #FeministFaves.




WOMEN WITH MALE SIDEKICKS 
These shows have 1 m & 1 f on stage, but are excellently female focussed, and well worth a watch!


London Hughes: Superstar @ C Royale 19:15
London mixes her love of dance, television and comedy as she explores the crazy world of entertainment and examines the hot topic of diversity in the industry in Hughes’s signature energetic, honest and non-conformist style.

Seven Crazy Bitches @ Assembly Hall 19:00
Join the Diva on a budget as she guides you through the Seven Ages of Woman. Pit stops include seduction via Kate Bush, an interview with the woman who lived in Prince’s head, and finding out how many two pence pieces a man can insert up his foreskin.

You’ve Changed @ Summerhall 20:30
Through song, dance, hard-won wisdom and hilarity, You’ve Changed shines a light on the ins and outs and ups and downs of transitioning. Challenging the idea that genitals equal gender, Kate literally bares all, getting her own out on the proverbial table. She’s changed, that’s clear, but have you?



That’s all for now! 



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