In Praise of the One-Woman Show

More from AJ Clay, at the Fringe

Mo-to-the-oncle [Fringe Online, YouTube] (@MELISSANTHROPE)

What happens when your dad’s health insurance vision plan is cancelled and you need glasses? For Detroit Price Jr. it means wearing a monocle in his tough Bronx neighbourhood, and his (mis)adventures are recounted in Melissa Cole’s one-woman play.

Cole takes on an array of characters using low-budget costumes and props, including indifferent sales assistant Laverne, estranged Uncle Sugar Free, and Detroit’s long-suffering ex-musician-turned-factory worker father Detroit Sr. She takes aim at many facets of black life in the US: racism, flawed white allies, the struggle for employment, and health insurance inequality.

The latter is the main target; ‘it’s not like the insurance company to be so callous’, Detroit Sr. laments, as he prepares to haggle with the snobby optician for discounted glasses provided ‘as part of our discrimination settlement’. Occasionally a character will break the fourth wall and explain stereotypes such as the plucky single mum chasing three baby daddies, the young black kid selling snacks on the Subway, or Sugar Free’s glamorous pimp life. Cole takes no prisoners, and the humour is laced with anger and tragedy throughout.

There’s original musical interludes too, from Detroit’s raps about the Second Amendment to Sugar Free’s hilarious country ballad about his salacious job, and they set the scene perfectly.

Bitingly satirical and hilarious, this is essential viewing.


Green Knight [Scottish Storytelling Centre] (@DebsCa)

In this one-woman retelling of the legend of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Debbie Cannon looks at the myth from a female perspective. It’s Christmas in Camelot, and the dread Knight lays down a gruesome challenge to Gawain- one which he may not survive.

On a simple, sparse set, several objects represent the characters: an apple for Gawain, a drum for the unnamed protagonist’s husband, a spoon for the elderly Morgan le Fay. The menfolk range from swaggering, Sean Bean-adjacent monarchs to snarling villains and chaste, honourable knights. Debbie engages every audience member in the small room and holds them rapt throughout, addressing them as wives, priests and noblemen, and sweeping them away into her world of warriors and monsters.

In this male-dominated Arthurian society women are treated as babymakers to be shut away, and when they attempt to assert their agency they are treated as dangerous, silly, even chaotic. But as our storyteller shows, this can be a powerful position. Gradually, the pious Gawain is seduced under the nose of the protagonist’s husband even as the two men grow close; the power play between wife and knight is a treat to behold, enhanced by the Gawain-apple being bitten each time the heroine steals a kiss. As an audience member remarked at the end, it was inspirational on every level.

An astounding piece of storytelling which I hope will return to the Fringe next year.


Outside The Gate [Fringe Online, Vimeo] (@i_d_clairez, @Betsabeh)

Brash American Heather meets Iranian Samira outside the gates of a private school in the heart of Middle England and the result is a fascinating clash of cultures.

Reconnecting with – or forgetting about – one’s roots is a recurring theme. Samira has shortened her and her children’s names ‘to make it easier for people here’, something which Heather can’t comprehend. Back in Iran, Samira’s relatives are suffering under sanctions and upset at how England has changed her. But at the same time her traditional attitude to babies as an essential part of womanhood frustrates activist Heather; to her, bringing new life into the world as it is now seems futile. She fiercely defends her stepchildren against other parents and school staff, noting candidly that ‘my unstretched cervix threatens them’. The gulf between the women seems vast, but all is not as it seems.

Privilege, microaggressions and power are under the microscope. The UK feels like a 1945 ‘Keep Calm And Carry On’ tribute to the women, with some attitudes to race and class seemingly regressing. Assumptions are often made about Samira’s culture, whether it’s her baby’s gender or the bags at her feet signifying moving house rather than a sleepover. Meanwhile, Heather attends protests and gets angry at injustice aimed at her children, an emotion which Samira considers impractical. Claire Lebowitz King and Betsabeh Emran both give strong performances, and raise many questions about motherhood, patriarchy and cultural norms.

A third of the profits go towards the Women’s Refugee Commission and the Natural Resources Defense Fund, so this is a show very much worth watching.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *