First published in The Times, Monday August 15 2016
If the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a shop window for new talent, this debut production from Viscera Theatre is offbeat and original enough to encourage jaded passers-by over the threshold and into the store for a browse. The writer, Roxy Dunn (who also performs, alongside Alys Metcalf), dares to keep her audience on its toes. Is this a comedy drama? Is it a meta-theatrical sketch show? Or a blueprint for a radio series – think early evening Radio 4.
Dunn’s script does feature a plot of sorts, in which two university friends (the kind of best friends who fundamentally hate each other) attend a music festival post-graduation and receive contrasting forecasts from a straight-out-of-central casting fortune-teller. While the action then jumps ahead through key episodes in these women’s lives (think Beaches with caustic wit) equal time is given over to the performers’ stepping out of character and breaking the fourth wall, in order to bitchily analyse the preceding scene. Indeed, the relationship between the performers is of as much value as the fictional one.
Brecht’s alienation effect is invoked, as are various clowning and mime techniques. At the halfway point, the action returns to the beginning, with the characters’ fates becoming switched in a Sliding Doors-style alternative reality. If all this makes the show sound pretentious, fear not. All of these theatrical tropes are referenced with tongues firmly embedded in cheeks.
If there’s a downside to this production, which is directed by Chris Head, it is that the action moves at a fairly ambling pace throughout. Both Dunn and Metcalf are from the wry and understated school of performing, and when Dunn turns back time (and, yes, the Cher song does make an appearance), there’s an inevitable sense of diminishing returns on the same jokes.
At its best, though, this piece, which takes an irreverent approach to the creative process is something of a breath of fresh air, and it is to be hoped that if Viscera Theatre aren’t snapped up for a Radio 4 series, that we see them again on the fringe before long.