A jovial geologist in a bathrobe and penguin socks. An everywoman walking to a punk beat. A performance artist, who just wants to get banned from Tesco. ‘Dancing with Colours, Whipping with Words’ featured eccentric characters engaging with political issues through both comedy and intense emotion. This electrifying festival programme honoured the work of the Italian playwright Dario Fo, featuring three shows at the Traverse Theatre from an assortment of artists influenced by his iconic style. Though originally aiming to celebrate Fo’s enormous impact on contemporary political theatre, the programme turned commemorative due to the passing of Fo on the 13th October.
Fo is known for adapting older forms of theatre to a new style that challenges the realism prevalent in theatre today, like ‘commedia dell’arte’, a 16th-century Italian form that uses trope characters in improvised scenarios. Through these styles he criticised socio-political situations both specific to Italy and universal, such as the right-wing party Forza Italia, corruption, racism, and war. His works, including Accidental Death of an Anarchist and Can’t Pay? Won’t Pay! are characterised by farcical comedy, allegorical characters, structural questionings of authority that leave endings open and interpretations unclear, and forceful political themes.
Breaking the Ice by Kieran Lynn is light-hearted and whimsical while addressing environmental preservation and political stalemate. An Edinburgh geologist named Frank (Steven McNicoll) travels to Alaska to speak at a conference. Frank spends the entire show in a hotel bathrobe, having spilled yogurt on his suit (he doesn’t eat dairy much but was ‘feeling exotic’). Frank’s wordplay and childlike demeanour make his ultimate conclusion all the more powerful: the environment will be exploited to the end of its life. The enduring sentiment is one of inefficacy against the unstoppable force of ‘progress’. However, this medicine is swallowed with a spoonful of sugar from the visible influences of Fo: an ethical philosopher who literally leads Frank in circles and a taunting authoritative voice of the conference announcer narrating Frank’s movements. Lynn creates a successful piece of political drama that is both enjoyable and thought provoking.
Blow Off, by Julia Taudevin, is a punk amalgamation of an anonymous woman’s monologue and her band’s music. After an ear-blasting punk song, the singer (Kim Moore) describes a woman walking down a street – assuring the audience, ‘you know the one,’ over and over. The performance is a meandering journey accompanied by songs such as a brash piece listing the different names for a vagina, and Moore becomes the voice of all women who have endured any sort of abuse. The constant repetition of ‘you know’ breaks the fourth wall in true Fo style, continually emphasising this “ordinary” woman. Though effective it did become grating after the twentieth time.
This piece’s intensity is highly effective and cathartic as the audience leaves with ears ringing and a sense of near relief at the tragic end of someone’s – anyone’s – life.
Mark Thomas is a London-based political-activist-meets-performance-artist whose 100 Acts of Minor Dissent catalogues his year of doing just that: performing small acts of protest against people, companies, and agencies throughout the country, from those limiting freedom of speech to Tesco. This hilarious show gave the audience glimpses into what he’s accomplished, be it creating an official ‘Bastard Trade’ logo for the opposite end of the Fair Trade spectrum, or defining the neologism ‘farage’ as ‘the liquid found at the bottom of a bin.’ Thomas’ charismatic stage presence, blending Shakespearean theatricality with Sméagol-esque giggles and naughtiness, made social activism look witty and downright fun. His encouragement to get his audience involved was proven successful by the long queue after the show to collect “Please Mind the Farage” stickers and ‘Bastard Trade’ logos to distribute throughout their daily lives.
Thomas closed his show with a necessary acknowledgement of Fo’s timely passing, saying he remembers being ‘filled with a sense of devious delight’ at first seeing Accidental Death of an Anarchist and amazement that comedy and politics could be so blended. This was a life perfectly celebrated, just in the nick of time.