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Edinburgh Fringe dance reviews: A Spectacle of Herself | Party Ghost | Oat Milk and Honey | 8:03

Laura Murphy makes A Spectacle of Herself at Summerhall. (Photo: Holly Revell)
Laura Murphy makes A Spectacle of Herself at Summerhall. (Photo: Holly Revell)

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE AND CIRCUS


A Spectacle of Herself ****


Summerhall (Venue 26) until 13 August

Comprising a series of unconventional and interconnected fragments, A Spectacle of Herself is at once daring, dynamic, and disruptive. Characterised by an innovative approach to, and engagement with, technology - particularly video projection - Laura Murphy uses both the solar system and systems of power as lenses through which to celebrate queerness and to consider new ways of being a woman in the world and on stage.

Using elements of autobiography, Murphy draws from the day-to-day dangers she faces as a consequence of her sex and sexuality (physical violence, verbal abuse, repression), in addition to her lived experience of autism. Pushing against - and sometimes parodying - 'pioneering male thinkers’ past and present, Murphy combines critical theory and creative practice to create a kind of cerebral circus. Blending physical theatre, clowning, and stunning displays of aerial rope, each vignette verges on wildness, and yet - under Ursula Martinez’s careful direction - the action is deftly controlled.

There are exceptions throughout (notably, a moment of weird karaoke), outliers that, while charming, remain strange, even estranged from the rest of the performance as it accrues and takes shape. Short silences between scenes - not unlike ‘rests’ in a piece of sheet music - are also odd at first, risking room for disengagement, but cumulatively these spaces gather gravity and meaning.

Its political savvy, seen together with themes of physical and emotional nakedness, makes A Spectacle of Herself incredibly sexy. As Murphy invites her audience to queer the status quo, unlearn Patriarchy, and destigmatise the female form, she does so with great sway and sophistication, resulting in a powerful and empowering piece of work.

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

Party Ghost ****

Assembly Checkpoint (Venue 322) until 27 August

If you’re looking for the silliest show in town, stop searching. Party Ghost is the circus show about death you didn’t know you needed, but you do. For although performers Olivia Porter and Jared Dewey have the entire crowd giggling like children, there’s nothing dumbed down about their humour. This is a liberating hour where it’s OK to laugh at the ridiculous things Porter and Dewey have dreamt up, whilst appreciating their skill as circus artists.

Costuming has a large role to play here – in particular, the cluster of large white sheets Porter and Dewey packed in their trunk from Australia. The duo (aided by an equally ghostly stage manager) spend much of their time underneath said sheets, peering through cut-out eye holes, horizontal arms flapping. Haunting the stage, and the audience, they bump into walls, stumble and fall, hit their heads and scurry around in a display of hilarious slapstick. Then they’re serving up birthday gifts to each other dressed as spooky blonde-wigged twins, but each attempt at niceness ends in, well, death – and on goes the white sheet. You get the picture.

From the pratfalls and fake injuries to the elaborate make-up and high heels, everything is played for maximum laughs. Aerial, acrobatics, balancing and even a little bit of off-kilter juggling keep the show rooted in circus land, but really this is an absurdist comedy that never loses pace. Props are picked up, used and thrown with abandon (including several severed limbs), while a soundtrack of well-chosen songs plays on. A routine to Adele’s Hello involving decapitated dolls is a comedic highlight, but there’s no real need to pick a favourite as Party Ghost is a hoot from start to finish. Kudos to director Nicci Wilks for squeezing every inch of fun from these two talented performers.

Kelly Apter

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

Oat Milk & Honey ****

Summerhall (Venue 26) until 27 August

A Fringe day is a long one, and any show starting at 10am has to be gentle on its audience. Happily, Oat Milk & Honey has beauty running through its core and will send you out into the world with hope in your heart. Performers Nathan Chettle and Amanda Lee are more considerate than most, opening their duet with a testament to Australia’s indigenous people and inviting us to step outside should the talk of anxiety prove too much. But an hour in their company provides the complete opposite.

This is Chettle and Lee’s debut show in their new incarnation as MO-KO Piano & Circus and they are a welcome arrival. Chettle’s original compositions have a delicate flow that washes over you as Lee stands there, chiffon-clad arms billowing with balletic grace. A carton of oat milk and a jar of honey sit on top of Chettle’s two keyboards, a reference not just to the title but to the poetic voiceovers talking us through potential ways to reduce anxiety (a nice cup of chai tea and watching alpacas run). A trapeze swing and light installation complete the staging, and without saying a word and remaining remarkably deadpan, the duo shares their respective talents.

A former member of Australian circus troupes Circa and Gravity & Other Myths, Lee is a sublime mover. She bends, stretches, and folds her body on the swing, on a set of hand balance canes, across the floor, and sometimes on Chettle himself. And her brief, unexpected costume change (no spoilers here) has the whole audience smiling with childlike glee. Throughout, the coming together of consummate circus skills, piano and playfulness is a breath of fresh air in a crowded circus landscape.

Kelly Apter

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE & CIRCUS

8:03 **

C Aquila (Venue 21) until 19 August

Delivered by three highly capable physical theatre performers from California’s Scherzo Theatre, each with an astute sense of comic timing, 8:03 takes place in a world gone wrong. At first, all is well – the cookies bake, the oven dings, they pull on their plastic gloves and pack them away. Bake, ding, repeat. Until a storm throws their orderly lives into chaos and, before you know it, they’re getting romantic with a water bottle. But laughs aside (and there aren’t really enough to prop this show up), the story has nothing meaningful to say and their talent feels wasted.

Kelly Apter