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Courtney Act’s Under The Covers
Courtney Act’s Under The Covers

Eight plays we wish we’d seen as teenagers

From shows that explore different fetishes to drag performances, the #MeToo movement, and Black Lives Matter

The Edinburgh Fringe has always been a melting pot for subcultures and creatives, pushing boundaries, and tackling difficult conversations. But – due to recent social and political movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter – a huge body of revolutionary art has been galvanised and is playing out. It’s partly down to social media spreading important social messages and partly down to society being ready to hear things it wasn’t necessarily primed for in the millennium. Teens today have a totally different experience ahead of them; one that’s more honest, brave, and stigma-free than before.

For young people who are still forming their ideas on society, themselves, and what’s normal, exposure like this is transformative. At The Fringe, hashtag activism is made tangible and new schools of thought are unpacked in real time. The artists are the oppressed, and they’re taking back full ownership of their story.

Brave topics are being championed in a way that it’s hard not to wish we’d experienced when we were growing up. Better late than never; here are eight Edinburgh Fringe 2018 plays we wish we’d seen as teenagers.

“Praise be to recent social and political movements like #MeToo and Black Lives Matter – a huge body of revolutionary art has been galvanised and is playing out”

KOKO BROWN’S WHITE

What does it mean to grow up mixed race in contemporary Britain? WHITE is a solo show by artist Koko Brown, using live vocal looping and spoken word to explore her own racial duality. “I made WHITE because I had to,” says Brown. “There was a lot of amazing work being made by black and brown people about being black and brown, which made me feel seen and validated my experiences as a black woman. But being a black woman is only part of my identity. This sense of being seen always felt partial because nothing was talking about the duality of being a black, mixed race woman. So I decided to start talking about it.” 

WHITE has been performed in London theatres, and long-listed for Amnesty International Scotland’s Freedom of Expression award, lauded for its dynamic, engaging staging. “I made this show to begin a conversation about race from the point of someone who has multiple races clashing inside of them,” says Brown. “But making theatre, even when it is about sensitive subjects like race, doesn’t have to be a drag. Creating theatre should be like playing on the jungle gym; fun and a little dangerous.” That it is.

WHITE runs at Venue 33, The Pleasance Courtyard. August 21-27

TRANSGRESSIONS PRODUCTIONS’ (EVEN) HOTTER

(Even) HOTTER is transformative. Following last year’s five-star run at The Fringe with HOTTER, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter have returned with version 2.0. The duo interviewed over 30 women and trans people between 13 and 97 about what gets them hot, from periods to sex, grannies to teens. This is a play that wages war on embarrassment. 

“When we first started to make HOTTER we had a mantra that no one who came to see our show should ever feel embarrassed about their body again,” say Higgins and Potter. “This is obviously an impossible goal but it formed the spine of HOTTER right from the start. We always knew though, that as two white cis-women, we couldn’t make a show about bodies based solely on our own limited experience, so we interviewed other women and trans people of varying ages, backgrounds, races, and sexual preferences. It was so fun, so invigorating, so fucking special, that the show quickly became rooted in the voices of other people.”

(Even) HOTTER takes on the gut-wrenching moments your body gives you away; both hilarious and uniting, it’s a reminder that, though life often feels lonely, we’re in this together. “HOTTER has given us confidence, rage, joy, and an indestructible friendship,”say  Higgins and Potter. “It’s a mission we never want to stop.” 

(Even) HOTTER runs at Venue 49, Bedlam Theatre, Aug 22-27

COURTNEY ACT’S UNDER THE COVERS

Australian drag queen and singer Courtney Act (aka Shane Janek) became a household name in the UK when she won Celebrity Big Brother last year, lest we forget her political showdowns with ex-Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe and her ‘special relationship’ with Andrew Brady. Having risen to international fame on series one of Australian Idol in 2003 and season six of Ru Paul’s Drag Race in 2014, she has become one of the most accessible voices on equal rights of this generation.

Her new show, Courtney Act: Under the Covers, has been touring the UK since May, including performances at Underbelly’s Circus Hub at The Fringe. “Courtney Act has been under the covers with many, but not usually in front of a live audience,” reads the teaser. Spoiler alert: the audience is getting under her favourite cover songs, not into bed. From “Valerie” to “I Will Always Love You”, she strips down well-known classics, flipping them on their heads in a gender and genre-fluid performance that’s as naughty as it is nostalgic. Act uses drag to bend gender norms and to educate. Ahead of the debut of The Courtney Show, a new late night show hitting Channel 4 soon, take any chance to catch her.

Touring the UK until 25th August

NOUVEAU RICHÉ’S QUEENS OF SHEEBA

In 2015, a group of black women were turned away from Dstrkt nightclub in London for being ‘too black,’ catalysing a media whirlwind. Queens of Sheba, the debut appearance at The Fringe from theatre group Nouveau Riché takes inspiration for this incident. "It was time for us to directly address misogynoir (the specific prejudice directed towards black women where race and gender both influence the bias),” says playwright Jessica L. Hagan, “time for us to be listened to. Black women have been using art to address important issues for years, whether it be through song, dance, poetry or other forms. The beauty of theatre is that it can’t be interrupted, you’re expected to sit down for 60 minutes and just listen.”

Fusing elements of spoken word, physical theatre, dance, and music from the African diaspora, Queens of Sheba celebrates what it is to be a black woman, opening up a conversation and correcting racist, misogynistic preconceptions. It’s at once funny and devastating; a cry of sisterhood, a wake-up call and a chance to see bold, new pioneers in action. Nouveau Riché theatre company champions work by black writers and performers, and this four-woman play is one of the only all-black female casts at The Fringe. While their run finishes on 26 August, they will open New Diorama Theatre’s 2018/19 season in London from 4-8 September. 

Runs at Venue 61, Underbelly, Cowgate, until 26 August

UNPOLISHED THEATRE’S FLESH AND BONE

“There’s so much pretentious theatre,” says Elliot Warren of new company Unpolished Theatre. “Actors dawdle around the stage ‘acting’ and it’s bloody boring. No one gives a shit!” Noted. Warren, and his co-actor Olivia Brady like to keep their audience entertained. Their award-winning, sellout play Flesh and Bone is a genius unearthing of the reality of a working-class estate due for demolition, fusing Shakespeare-inspired lyricism with cockney accents.

“We wanted to create something that appeals to a class, a generation that isn't just looking for a safe night out at the theatre,” he says. “A show that straps you in, stares you in the eyes and keeps you there. We wanted to give our audiences the same experience as their first time watching a Quentin Tarantino film, something fucking cool – with a point and a meaning. My family all come from the East End of London and the big characters, rich with life and stories, have always held a special place in my heart. I have always wanted to write about these people, especially my brilliant Grandad who can wear a dressing gown and still uphold this look of some great and suave East End king with his gold jewellery one and his big 60s style glasses.” This show gives a microphone to the voiceless, and hands the stage to those seldom heard. It’s eye-opening, important and a real diversion from traditional theatre, which is now headed back to Soho Theatre to continue its London run. 

Returning soon to theatres in London

ISSY KNOWLES’ MODEL BEHAVIOUR

The past year will forever be known as a watershed moment, when the outing of abusive titans in Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and fashion began. In a post #MeToo world, writer and actress Issy Knowles’ play Model Behaviour, which unpicks the glamorous surface of the modelling industry to reveal a grotty reality, couldn’t be more of the moment. Knowles laces humour with shock factor to expose the abuses of power, and an enduring sense of worthlessness, common to so many women.

“At its core Model Behaviour is about not feeling good enough,” she says. “I wrote it to hold the industry accountable for being made to feel disposable. I wanted to have my say after so many years of being voiceless.” This is both a cathartic exhale for Knowles and an educative and validating experience for the audience. Although it’s fictitious, her character has helped her make peace with her conflicting past, and even laugh at it. “There’s something about comedy that touches an audience like no other genre. I considered what I would have wanted to know about the modelling industry had I not grown up in it. The glitz and glamour hide a lot, including the dark underbelly of men and women who never make it and whose rights are exploited in their pursuit of recognition.” This is a comedy with a call to action, now finished at The Fringe, but coming soon to London.

Returning soon to theatres in London

STRICTLY ARTS THEATRE’S FREEMAN

Freeman is the play of the moment. Inspired by the first man in America to plead insanity as his defence, Freeman threads together six true stories told through physical theatre, spoken word, gospel singing, shadow puppetry and more. Writer Camilla Whitehill and Strictly Arts Theatre get deep into the taboo pairing of institutionalised racism and mental health.

With the political, social and cultural backdrop of Black Lives Matter, countless US police shootings of unarmed black men and Spike Lee’s devastating new film BlacKkKlansman, Freeman is a heartbreaking look into just a few tales of racially-motivated miscarried justice that we know to be so common. The cast switch in and out of different characters and time periods, from dance parties to murder scenes, keeping the audience on edge. William Freeman, the first character of the play, landed in prison due to a falsely convicted horse theft and was beaten so badly as a teenager in prison that his damaged mental state led him to murder a family. This is a shocking story of systemic race, mental health, ethical, and political issues, and the call to action is clear: something needs to change.

Runs at Venue 33, Pleasance Courtyard, 23-27 August

PITS ‘N’ CLITS’ HUG THE BUNNY

Throughout history, they myth of female ‘hysteria’ (once a classified medical ailment) has been used to systematically oppress and isolate women. The ‘roaming uteri’ theory told that the uterus could move around the body, placing pressure on different areas, and symptoms from depression to kleptomania were attributed to female sex organs. Norwich-based feminist theatre company Pits ‘N’ Clits mock ‘hysteria’ in an explosive, liberating performance. “The deliberate choice to link the play to the word ‘hysteria’ meant a dialogue was created between women of the past and now, the anxieties we share, and the oppressions we still face,” say writer and co-director Phoebe Wood and co-director Rachel Stone.

The show follows one character, Nina, through four extreme states: Rage, Nymphomania, Extasy, Numbness. Each of these emotions are symptoms of ‘hysteria’, and each are a different character in the play. In an acute, sobering deconstruction of one female mind, the audience is driven through fractured states of anger, detachment, joy, and sensuality. “We wanted to create a female-centred play where we could explore some of the anxieties of womanhood,” they say. “To do this, we took one woman and set the play in her mind exploring each of her emotions rather than her whole self. By deconstructing the mind we were able to expose the fluidity of life – how there is no right or wrong answer, no right or wrong emotion, and no right or wrong form of feminism.”

Further runs TBC