Making a song and dance about social care
The Edinburgh Fringe is the world’s largest arts festival with over 2,000 shows on offer. This year, the pick of the productions that explore social care themes include mental illness, alcoholism, suicide and teen knife crime. Oh yes, and there’s a musical about Madonna’s transcultural adoption.
World Festival: Mercy Madonna of Malawi
Director Toby Gough has recruited 14 performers from Malawi and together they give an African perspective on Madonna’s adoption of a young girl earlier this year. This upbeat musical is based on research with key Malawians in the case that the newspapers never reported.
Madonna is, amusingly, played by Robert Magasa, an athletic, black Malawian. In an inversion of the Black and White Minstrel show, the actor is made-over into her Madgesty by ‘whiting up’ and donning a blonde wig. A pointy bra completes the transformation.
Mercy’s adoption divided opinion in Malawi, but brought its 1.5 million orphans to the world’s attention. It also exposed the ethical conundrums that surround cross-cultural adoption. Why didn’t Madge just fund an orphanage in Malawi, one of the poorest nations in Africa? Who is best to decide if a child should be placed in another country?
The production toured orphanages in Malawi earlier this year. And whatever the rights and wrongs of the cross-cultural adoptions, this show promises to be a hoot.
Chickenshed: Crime of the Century
Chickenshed have a reputation for producing powerful theatre tackling difficult social issues. In their latest production, the dance theatre company turn their attention to the proliferation of knife crime among young people.
Crime of the Century is based on interviews with perpetrators, victims and their families. Using spoken word and movement set to a funky hip-hop score, it explores events that led up to the murder of Shaquille Smith, the son of social worker Sandra Maitland. Smith was just 14 when he was stabbed to death last year outside his house in Hackney, east London.
This year’s production has a particular poignancy for the company. Smith was the nephew of its director of education, Paul Morrall, and the cousin of a young actor, Daniel Banton, who plays Smith’s killer in the drama. The show transfers to the Fringe after a successful run in London.
Analogue: Beachy Head
Analogue’s previous award-winning drama, Mile End, was inspired by the true story of a commuter pushed under a train by a man with a mental illness. Their latest work continues this tradition of theatre influenced by real-life events with a show inspired by Britain’s most infamous suicide spot, Beachy Head.
The production is an intense multi-media collaboration, with performances set against 3D animation and featuring original music. Exploring the ripple effects of one man’s decision to take his life, it tells the interconnected stories of those left behind after his leap from the notorious cliffs.
Funded by The Wellcome Trust, Beachy Head has been two years in development. The Surrey-based company worked closely with Samaritans volunteers and experts in social care to develop a deeper understanding of the issues surrounding suicide, grief and depression.
Chris McCausland: 7 Strikes
Blind comedian Chris McCausland has never let his disability hamper him. The former call centre worker first tried stand-up in 2003, and the monotony of his day job spurred him on to pursue comedy as a full-time profession.
Fresh from supporting Michael McIntyre, the cheeky Scouser’s show is packed with self-deprecating one-liners, including his opener: “Don’t build your hopes up too much – they’ve decided to start the show with a blind guy doing observational comedy!”
But not one to dwell on his disability for too long, at Edinburgh McCausland will be turning his attention to chronicling the fortunes – and misfortunes – of Roy Sullivan, who survived being hit by lightning on seven separate occasions. This is an unbelievable story that McCausland feels compelled to share.
An accomplished performer, McCausland is immediately recognisable to those with young children as Rudi the market trader in the BBC children’s programme ‘Me Too!’. Twenty-six episodes of the show were filmed in Scotland, so he should feel at home during his stint north of the border.
Kim Noble: Kim Noble Will Die
In 2004, Kim Noble received a Bafta nomination. It was also the year he was admitted to south London’s Maudsley hospital, with bi-polar depression. His experiences there have informed much of his work and, following a highly acclaimed run in London’s West End earlier this year, he takes his debut solo show to an unsuspecting Scottish audience.
Kim Noble Will Die is a groundbreaking multi-media show featuring absurd comedy, video and avant-garde theatre. His work is, at times, mind-boggling. Having contemplated suicide in recent years, Noble has also considered what legacy he would like to leave behind. In this show, he makes it his quest to make the world a better place by bequeathing some time-saving devices and doing charitable acts.
Audience members are written into Noble’s legally binding Last Will and Testament. And a microwave oven will be given away each night. Apparently.
Citizens Theatre: The Sound of My Voice
Citizens Theatre’s adaptation of Ron Butlin’s novel, The Sound of My Voice, portrays an alcohol-fuelled, midlife crisis. The Glasgow-based company return to the Fringe for the first time in over 10 years with their powerful exploration of alcoholism in the workplace.
A mirrored set provides the backdrop to this play that reflects on the life of Morris Magellan, a company executive and family man with a house in the suburbs who espouses 1980s Thatcherite values.
Billy Mack plays the inebriated leading role, who buckles under the pressure of work. The businessman is skilled enough to mask his dependence, but his life slowly falls apart. The cautionary tale of one man’s battle with the bottle.
And finally, some shows to avoid…
If you’re planning a trip to the Scottish capital, don’t take the shows’ blurbs at face value. A colleague got over-excited when they saw this year’s programme included a show called Social Work, only to discover the production depicted a footballers’ wives-type lifestyle, where “work” is a series of social engagements.
Elsewhere, early publicity for the Jerry Sadowitz’s Comedian, Magician, Psychopath was advertising the show as being accessible for people with a range of sensory impairments – featuring audio description, captioning and sign language. Perhaps it is the provocative comic’s idea of a cruel joke? Or maybe he really wants to make sure that everyone gets the chance to be offended by his foul-mouthed rants. Who knows?