Edinburgh festival 2018: Lyn Gardner reviews new and emerging shows on the Fringe from Baby Face to Lights Over Tesco Carpark

The verdict on a selection of shows boasting fresh talent 

Lyn Gardner
Wednesday 22 August 2018 12:23
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Baby Face ★★★☆☆ / Polaris ★★★☆☆ / Lights Over Tesco Carpark ★★★☆☆ / Everything Not Saved ★★★★☆ / Tetra-Decathlon ★★★☆☆

Katy Dye stands before us in school uniform, channelling Britney in her “...Baby One More Time” period. Dye is in her mid-twenties. But she looks younger, much younger. People tell her so admiringly. But how much younger do they want her to be? Do they, she enquires savagely, want her to have the flat stomach of a nine-year-old? The ass of an eight-year-old? Or the labia of a five-year-old?

In Baby Face (Summerhall, until 26 August) using only a high chair as a prop, Dye writhes, screeches and shrieks her way through a deeply uncomfortable but pointed examination of the way that women are infantilised and how they sometimes collude. She sucks her thumb, and dressed as a school girl she approaches a male member of the audience and asks innocently: “Do you find me attractive?” There is a long silence before he answers. Baby Face is provocative stuff, perhaps light on content but big on impact.

Dye is what British Theatre often describes as an “emerging” artist or company. The difficulty is that many never get past the emergent stage, constantly stuck in a state of arrested development and never fully hatched. The UK funding system simply stacks the odds against them so it’s hard to mature as an artist and make bolder theatre on a bigger scale.

It means that the work can sometimes seem a tad light and fluffy, even when it is tackling serious subjects. It’s the case with Holly and Ted’s Polaris (Pleasance Courtyard, until 27 August), a loveable but lightweight time travelling show which entwines three stories. One, set in the Cretaceous period, features a dinosaur called Tracy, another is about Year 10 school girls in 1997, and a third tells of a woman leading an all male crew of astronauts in 2096. Polaris suggests that when it comes to power and power structures some things never change, and if they don’t it may destroy us all. It’s engaging but it’s also scrappy.

As you arrive in the theatre for Lights Over Tesco Carpark (Pleasance Dome, until 27 August) to find brownies being handed around you could be forgiven for thinking that this might be lightweight stuff too. But new company Poltergeist deceive with this neat little comic-documentary inspired by an Oxford man who was convinced he saw an alien spaceship above a Tesco car park.

Poltergeist lure us in and break down our defences to create a clever little show which features sherbet flying saucers, audience participation, reconstruction and mobile phones to make a quirky and oddly affecting piece which features four stories of alien encounters. Or are these stories really about loneliness, the fear we might be quite alone in the universe, and the longing to find meaning in empty lives?

Lights Over a Tesco Carpark includes an interactive quiz to smoke out any aliens who might be lurking in the audience, raising questions about how we treat “the other”. It also investigates what we believe and how easily we allow ourselves to be deceived.

Lights Over a Tesco Carpark is a 'far from lightweight' neat comic-documentary 

Malaprop’s clever Everything Not Saved (Summerhall, until 26 August) also considers how the brain tricks us into believing that we experienced something that we haven’t – particularly if we have seen a photograph of that event. It is a show which constantly plays tricks on us, in the same way that memory does, and makes great play that theatre itself is a deception which invites us to suspend our disbelief.

It offers three different scenarios in which memory is tested and proves slippery, and features one of the most entertaining final 15 minutes on the fringe. This is very intelligent and very neatly put together theatre. It knows exactly what it is doing, and it does it with an aesthetic swagger and style that can sometimes be lacking on the fringe. If it has a fault it is that it makes you respond first with your head and only engages with the heart in the very final seconds.

Lauren Hendry used to be an acrobat but aged 30 she decided to become an athlete, despite the fact she had never stepped foot on a running track. Her goal was to compete in the world championships of the Tetra-Decathlon (Summerhall, until 26 August), a gruelling 14 event competition which makes the heptathlon (the event in which Jessica Ennis-Hill was 2012 Olympic champion) look like a stroll in the park.

When Hendry signed up at a local athletics club, the coach said it would be impossible to compete on a world stage in just 600 days. Hendry was determined to prove him wrong, and her debut solo theatre show charts her attempt.

I won’t spoil it by telling you whether she succeeded or not, but Hendry’s simply structured but impressively sweaty 60 minutes asks some piercing questions about failure and success, amateur and professionals, being a hero and being a fool and why we keep going against all the odds. It may not leave you as breathless as its protagonist, but it does keep you gripped.

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