New Voices in Edinburgh

As part of the giddy, hectic and slightly insane experience that was my first fringe, I was lucky enough (thanks to IdeasTap) to catch all five plays that made up the Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh season at Underbelly. This is just one example of what seems to be a growing trend towards curation within the uncurated, amorphous bubble of the festival; other models along these lines include those adopted by Escalator East to Edinburgh and Northern Stage at St Stephen’s. While the hit and miss nature of the fringe is part of its quirky charm, there is something quite comforting about having these reliable miniature programmes to retreat to through the haze of clumsy adaptations and misplaced whimsy.

The emphasis of the Old Vic New Voices programme is, unsurprisingly, very much on “new writing”. The pieces are small, with a bias towards monologues and two-handers, but the writing and productions all proved themselves to be solid and often exciting. The whole season was, as Edinburgh goes, a pretty safe bet, though without the safeness of subject matter that implies. The advantage of a curated programme was also in seeing how these different pieces refracted through one another, experiencing them both as standalone plays and as part of a wider context.

If they have a future life, which I suspect they will, it would be fascinating to see these plays reformulated into double bills. Chapel Street and One Hour Only would be my top pick for a pairing, but Bitch Boxer and Strong Arm could also make a fascinating juxtaposition. While Edinburgh can easily become a distorted blur of production after production, seeing pieces whose placement alongside one another actively informs their reception is a refreshing and intriguing exercise. Here are a few more of my thoughts on the programme …

Glory Dazed

While his friends come home in coffins and wheelchairs, Ray knows that war can make you lose something other than life or limb. Returning to Doncaster with frustrated aggression and tortured memories, the only thing that Ray is any good at these days is fighting. But there’s no memorial service or prosthetic aid for being messed up in the head. Read more …

Bitch Boxer

Every fighter has a reason.

That’s the thinking behind this new show written and performed by Charlotte Josephine, taking a particularly timely dive into the world of female boxing. Read more …

One Hour Only

AJ’s mates have bought him a banging present for his 21st birthday – quite literally.

Out of place in a classy London brothel, the gift he ends up with is Marly, a cash-strapped student in her first night on the job, with whom he has more in common than he expected. Read more …

Strong Arm

Sporting ambition and athletic excellence are high on the national consciousness as the country continues to ride the wave of Olympic success. When competitiveness goes up a weight class into pure obsession, however, that same determination to succeed becomes altogether more disturbing. Read more …

Chapel Street

On Chapel Street, “every week it’s shit”.

Same people, same bars, same drinks. Or so we’re told by Joe and Kirsty, both out on a Friday night and each with their own reasons to seek oblivion. Through these two characters, Luke Barnes’ viciously funny and quietly devastating two-hander sketches out a searing, booze-stained portrait of the Pro-Plus generation, grabbing at their next energy kick while putting off tomorrow. Read more …

 

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One Hour Only, Underbelly

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Originally written for IdeasTap.

AJ’s mates have bought him a banging present for his 21st birthday – quite literally.

Out of place in a classy London brothel, the gift he ends up with is Marly, a cash-strapped student in her first night on the job, with whom he has more in common than he expected.

This is the somewhat contrived but dramatically fruitful set-up of Sabrina Mahfouz’s new play, a bite-sized meditation on youth, sexual politics and the economics of power. As soon as Marly’s mask slips and it becomes clear that this will be no usual encounter between prostitute and client, the unlikely situation becomes a platform for surprisingly honest discussion and debate between the pair. They might remain clothed, but the conversation is naked.

Marly, who likes sex but likes money more, argues her defence by suggesting that no exchange involving money is ever truly empowering; we are all, to a lesser or greater extent, whoring out our talents. Falling prey to Pretty Woman syndrome, AJ tries to talk Marly out of her morally dubious profession, but Mahfouz’s writing is too clever to allow this to become anything nearing black and white.

Through AJ and Marly, the piece asks questions about ambition, money, knowledge, the nature of modern feminism. There is also an acute observation about the way in which sex is viewed in modern Britain, with the line between casual one-night stands and paid-for encounters growing ever more blurred.

AJ and Marly’s conversational dance, engagingly played by Faraz Ayub and Nadia Clifford, takes place in a naturalistic, clinical hotel room, a naturalism that is offset by a striking back wall of lightbulbs in Francesca Reidy’s design. This simple yet fascinating feature fades and brightens, pulsing with the power games between man and woman, crackling like their obvious chemistry. Although Mahfouz’s intriguing, intelligent piece has yet to quite reach its own lightbulb moment, as the hour ticks past it leaves everyone wanting a few more minutes.

Photo: Jassy Earl