So it’s halfway through The Strange Undoing Of Prudencia Hart, Edinburgh, August 2011. The audience are sat at large tables dotted, wedding-style, around the gothic drinking hall of the Ghilli Dhu. It’s the interval and we’re having a dram. The one remaining seat at our table is taken by a latecomer, a stranger who asks if anyone can give her a quick précis of the story so far.
Now: normally you’ll find me, categorically, not up for this sort of thing. I spend enough time condensing plots into bite-size chunks, thanks. It’s too much like work. But to my own surprise I suddenly find myself launching into a blow-by-blow account of David Greig’s funny, faustian story right up to the cliffhanger we’ve all been left dangling from. The actors have been walking, singing, bickering and pratfalling amongst us, on top of the tables and the bar, recounting a slight domestic fable about a Scottish academic that has very gradually turned into something darker, something stranger, something else. And what I realise is that such care has been taken to make the experience communal and timeless, that were I not to tell the story to a stranger as best I could… well, that would seem like a betrayal. A nasty little selfishness.
Prudencia Hart is full of a whole bunch of other stuff that would normally make my knuckles pucker. For a start, it’s all in rhyming verse. The music – brilliantly composed and performed – is rooted firmly in the genre best described as Gaelic Chintz. There’s even (oh god, oh Jesus Christ please NO) a jolly audience-participation singalong… but somehow, none of this makes me want to ram a tin whistle through my own skull. Throughout the course of the play, story and subject tumble over and around each other until you’re left with a surprisingly vivid geography of Prudencia’s journey. Even now, months later, the Wicker Man-like images of hellish karaoke in a borders pub have stayed with me; the snowbound, sodium-lit village, the library you can never leave. And it stays with me not just because of the performers’ considerable subtlety and skill but because the whole exercise is, much like a ballad, in service of the fantastical tale. Even the playwright manages to keep his nose out of things. I remember not the singers, but the song.
Bryony Kimmings’ 7 Day Drunk – which I also saw at last year’s Fringe – creates a different kind of accumulative image, familiar to anyone who might have seen her previous show Sex Idiot. BK’s onstage persona is that of the madwoman who turns up at your party dressed as The Space Pope and will be dancing to the kettle long after everyone else has left. Here she’s documenting her relationship with alcohol, often through the unflinching eye of a camera as she holes up in her studio and maintains a consistent, clinically supervised level of drunkenness for a full week.
Thanks to BK’s habit of interspersing the pain with a jaunty song it’s not the grim and masochistic exercise it might at first seem. In fact her stories of growing up at the arse end of wherever are charming and memorable in their own right, and she has a great way of making her propositions intimate without being cloying or invasive. She speaks directly to her audience, makes it easy to laugh -- at ourselves, or at her own foibles. It’s often said that to be a proper comic you need to be unafraid to make yourself look ridiculous. Bryony Kimmings takes this truism and runs with it to all sorts of funny, sad and beautiful places.
A little more recently I saw The Furies by Kindle in an archway beneath Waterloo station, the trains rolling overhead every two minutes and dirty water running from the ceiling in constant drips, onto rigs of green stagelights and buzzing amplifiers. So the whole thing felt dangerous enough as it was… even before the triumvirate of wailing soothsayers, young yet ancient, took to the floor. It’s the story of Clytemnestra told through brash rock and queasy soul numbers, and the batshit-crazy world of Greek legend is a good match for the clattering drums and seasick synths. The performer’s vocal ranges swoop from African funeral ululations to Slipknot grunts as they prowl amongst the standing audience, raggedy glamorous goths telling the story of a wronged woman’s revenge in fractured, sometimes oblique arias.
They’re songs of pain, from the slightly narked-off to convulsive, barely comprehensible rage. It sort of doesn’t matter if you don’t know the story – it can be equally enjoyed as a ritual experience, a celebration, an exorcism. As with Bryony Kimming’s work the really refreshing edge to The Furies is that it’s a portrait of femininity that comes with absolutely no apologies or qualifications… something that really shouldn’t be beyond the norm in the 21st fucking century, but unfortunately still has the ring of novelty. With Kindle’s show the righteous fury is infectious, life-affirming, and you might well find yourself chanting “ARE YOU ANGRY YET? ARE YOU ANGRY YET?” in your best Napalm Death voice for days afterwards. Especially whilst waiting for the number 25 bus to show up.