Fringe Reviews from AJ Clay…
The Little Glass Slipper as Performed by the Queen of France and Her Friends [Fringe Online, Vimeo] (@SlipperShow)
‘Do you think I was going to lose my courage when my journey was at an end?
As the Ancien Regime crumbles around them, the court of Marie Antoinette perform a beloved fairy tale to entertain the angry masses. A play-within-a-play, the unsettling atmosphere is there from the outset as the queen refuses to come on stage while riots erupt in the Bastille and elsewhere in the city. In this febrile environment, her courtiers gossip and speculate before assuming their roles of Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters, a metaphor that becomes increasingly apt as the drama unfolds. Casting herself in the central role, the queen remains oblivious to the unrest, her courtiers scrambling to keep the play going while shadowy figures commit violence behind the curtains- and eventually, on-stage.
It’s a tense, grim experience, with moments of great farce, such as the herald filling in for the Fairy Godmother, or the revolutionary who inadvertently joins the cast and steals the show. But the standout scenes are the darker kind, such as the blasphemous hot chocolate and croissant picnic, and the queen begging for mercy while the stepsisters do the same. Cinderella’s wedding interspersed with the queen’s final journey is particularly poignant.
The production quality is excellent: it feels like a TV drama in terms of visually sumptuous cinematography, beautiful costumes and contemporary soundtrack. The dynamic between the petulant, vulnerable Marie and the bumbling herald, played by Cara Johnston and Justin Locklear, was well-acted, and the supporting cast were equally superb.
This troupe have a bright future.
Call Mr Robeson [theSpace @ Surgeons Hall/Fringe Online, Vimeo] (@MrTayoAluko)
‘There is no force on Earth that will make me go backward a thousandth part of one little inch.’
[Content warning: discriminatory language, suicide] Tayo Aluko explores the extraordinary life of Paul Robeson, the pioneering singer, actor, sportsman and activist, in this one-man play. Amid piles of family photos, flags and other props, Paul muses on his highs and lows.
From the outset, racism and colourism blight Paul’s career; venues segregate audiences, films selectively edit him with a white supremacist angle, and the US government monitor his activities for the Un-American Activities Committee. He remains defiant, reading extensively and learning about the working-class struggles in the Soviet Union, Spain and Wales. A yearning for knowledge permeates the show, especially when it benefits those less fortunate than Paul. We gain a fascinating insight into a mind keen to expand when those in authority want to repress ‘dangerous’ ideas.
The hypocrisy of many of his fans is laid bare; being refused a table at a restaurant after playing a packed pre-football show, or the media misrepresenting his speeches, spur him on to fight against the increasing backlash to his political views. Aluko is a commanding stage presence from the outset, full of vigour and passion.
Tayo’s voice is also more than a match for the old standards such as Steal Away and Swing Low Sweet Chariot that pepper proceedings, but it’s the rendition of Old Man River that really stood out. The hurt, anger and hope these songs espouse still resonates today amid Black Lives Matter and the rise of extreme right-wing rhetoric.
A moving, powerful tribute.