Edinburgh: Catholic resonances continue at the Fringe


Ewa Pasikowska

Ewa Pasikowska

For those seeking plays and performances which resonate with the faith or contain Catholic themes at this year's Edinburgh Fringe, you continue to be spoiled. A Man Standing has now left town but Doubting Thomas continues at Summerhall.

Playing in the same venue is Camille, a superb performance created and performed by Kamila Klamut, who has trained with Poland's celebrated Grotowski Institute. Klamut plays out the life of Camille Claudel, the sculptress and former lover and muse of Rodin, who has been effectively incarcerated in a mental institution by her brother Paul Claudel, the poet and playwright. Paul Claudel became an ardent Catholic with the zeal of a neophyte. Six months after placing Camille in the asylum, he published his vision of staging his Annunciation. Bruno Dumont, in his 2013 film Camille Claudel, 1915, interprets Paul's decision to lock up Camille as being motivated by a wish to punish his sister for having an abortion which he suspected she underwent while she was with Rodin.

Klamut performs Camille's dark night of the soul, the artist incarcerated and betrayed, with an exquisite sensitivity and superb vocal and physical control. Ewa Pasikowska's beautiful singing and piano accompaniment complement this excellent piece of theatre.

It so happens that the other premier Grotowski laboratory, Thomas Richards' Workcenter, is also now in residency at Summerhall. I was fortunate to catch The Living Room which featured a fascinating and delightful range of chants and incantations ranging from the Bible through vodoo to myths and folk tales. Richards and his young collaborators demonstrated a like exemplary physical and vocal control during this strange, delightful ritual which included dance, extraordinary movements and song.

It was Grotoswki, the nephew of a Polish archbishop, who had advocated a 'poor theatre' featuring the 'holy actor' - a revelatory and ritualised experience of spiritual power - before embarking on his quest for 'the theatre of sources'. The Workcenter is presiding over some key Grotowski retrospectives while Richards will discuss his own creative journey before providing a five-day workshop on the actor/creator. Finally, it is playing L'Heure Fugitive and (a premiere): The Underground: A Response to Dostoevsky.

In another key, but with similar power and profundity, mingled with great wit and rapport with the audience, is Joan. Here, drag king Lucy Jane Parkinson performs the life of Joan of Arc, as written and directed by Lucy J Skilbeck. Parkinson is an actor of great instinctive feeling and delightful energy. She sings with real gusto and her on-stage transformations into the dauphin or the presiding judge at Joan's trial are a wonder to behold. She succeeds brilliantly in both satirising masculinity and embodying it. Cue much hilarity but also a great deal of pathos, utterly devoid of sentimentality. What shines through is Joan's extraordinary humanity. Excellent. Playing at the Underbelly, Cowgate.

Back at Summerhall, Stephanie Ridings' performed lecture The Road to Huntsville charts Ridings' increasingly intense and personal experience of Death Row in the USA and we learn that Catholic women are the most likely to strike up relationships with men incarcerated there.

Rounding off a fascinating focus on the dehumanisation of solitary confinement and incarceration at this year's Fringe are two plays at the Space, Niddry Street. Pharmacy, a troupe of exciting young actors, perform an adaptation of Rene Denfeld's novel: The Enchanted. The company are a fine ensemble, breathing in in unison, demonstrating physical poise and focus. They move around lockers to create enmeshed worlds of imprisonment and manipulate puppets to further layer and thicken their playing with fate and souls. A British company, their American accents are impressive. This is an inventive and powerful piece on mental illness, suffering and death row, admirably played and directed.

Fourth Monkey's The Whale interweaves the plight of Jonah in the leviathan's belly with the suffering of a young woman placed in solitary confinement in a young offenders' institution. Karen Tomlins' play dwells on the controversial use of solitary confinement as punishment in the UK's penal system. Tomlins also directs this play and the young company with a sure touch. I was impressed by the visceral performances and the keen observations of both writer and actors. Michaela Shaw was outstanding as the young woman, also called Jonah. She demonstrated truculence, defiance but real pain and vulnerability. This was a fascinating use of the Old Testament story which underlined the absolute and overwhelming pain of such punitive isolation. Biblical scholars be prepared for a shock.

Sami Stone's Roof, at Cabaret Voltaire, is a delightful hour of comedy. The comedian has a lovely presence, very natural yet full of wit and keen observation. She tells her own story of ten years of effective homelessness and some sixty changes of address with piquant objectivity and darkly subversive humour, and connects with the audience with straightforward relish. A superb range of accents accompany her nomadic odyssey, and the way she introduces topical and political material into her playful tale is very well done indeed.

Philip Crispin

Dr Philip Crispin is a lecturer in Drama at the University of Hull

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