I love the Camden Fringe Festival. It’s cheaper than the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, it’s local (for me) and I always see high calibre shows. This year was no exception. Although I booked myself into nine shows, due to work commitments, I was only able to attend four. So to the five shows I booked but didn’t see, I’m sorry. I’m sure you were brilliant. The four shows I did watch were spectacular, I would even say they are among the best I’ve seen at the Camden Fringe.
As the house doors opened we were warned by a staff member that the play would involve audience participation. If you remember what I said at my previous Fringe reviews, you’ll know that I hate audience participation! However the doorman said if we didn’t want to interact with the actors, we just had to wear a sticker and they would leave us alone. So, big kudos to the play organisers for this system.
When we entered the stage area we found the cast having a wild party, the sort of party I wish I had been invited to at university. One girl was using toilet paper as ribbons, another boy was playing a didgeridoo. When the show started we learnt that a woman called Angel was taking her followers up and down the UK, throwing parties along the way. Although none of the follows know who she is or where she came from they all agreed to give up their lives and travel with her, in a counter culture movement. The audience were also cast members, we were followers of Angel who had awoken at her latest party. The actors knew we were watching them and referenced us several times. A big shout out to the writers of this play for the clever framing.
There were two stand out elements of the play. The first was the acting. Everyone’s performance was on point. Particular praise goes to Angel herself, who had me convinced that she was a celestial being. The special effects should also be praised. One actress hid under a pile of blankets for thirty minutes before emerging. I had no idea she was there but she must have been baking! At one point, Angel and her followers rip a man to pieces. This was achieved by pulling red ribbons out from under his shirt and throwing a second bloodied shirt on the ground.
There is a lot of ambiguity about the play. Although the marketing claims that Angel is an angel and a daughter of God, she even tells us this at the start of the play, it is also hinted that she is just a charismatic cult leader. I was reminded of the infamous Jim Jones, who convinced over 900 of his followers to kill themselves by drinking poison.
I’ll award Angel nine bloodied shirts out of ten.
Norse mythology has experience something of a resurgence in recent years. It’s heavily featured in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, serves as the back drop to the latest God of War video game and should be familiar to most Neil Gaiman fans. Although its stories and its characters have evolved in modern culture (for example, it seems only Thor can wield his magic hammer Mjölnir) they are still easily recognisable. I’m a massive fan of mythology so when I saw Valhalla advertised, I was intrigued.
When I arrived at the Fourth Monkey Theatre I was placed into a group of ten before being met by Loki. She then escorted us up to the tavern where the rest of the gods awaited us. (Quick side note: In the original myths Loki was both a he and a she. Many ancient civilisations had contrasting views on gender and sex to our own). I brought Odin, the King of the Gods, mead and in return he told us how he met his wife, Freya. We were then lead down a corridor and split up so each of us had a personal interaction with a separate deity. I was lead up into the an attic where a pair of wise witches foretold that I would be the one to assist Odin after Ragnarok. I then received a golden coin which I gave to Hel (the Goddess of death and one of Odin’s daughters) so she didn’t kill me. After our group had reunited in Hel, a giant (puppet) spider appeared to eat one of our party members after we chose him to sacrifice.
If you can’t tell, I throughly loved the evening!
A story unraveled as we passed from room to room. We encountered a girl called Freya who had recently lost her brother Josh to knife crime on the streets of London. She was obsessed with Norse mythology, partly her parents had named her after one of the Gods and she coped with his departure by escaping into the world of giants and heroes. I will admit that when she revealed all this and told us to use stories and imaginations to change our world, I was tearful.
Credit must go to all the actors who change in and our of their outfits within moments and rush from one room to the next while attending to four different tour groups. The logistics of that alone must have been a headache. Their make up and costumes were amazing, the props and special effects were superb and I can’t fault anything at all. They even had several accurate Norse runes printed the walls.
This is, without a doubt, the best show I’ve seen at the Camden Fringe.
10 runes out of 10!
I didn’t know what to expect from Virtual Reality. The description for their show was vague and the images unclear. I thought we might be given a VR headset and watch the show virtually and physically. In case you are unaware VR headsets are the latest trend in the video game industry but they have also found use in treating military personal with PDSD and assisting children with learning difficulties.
My group was lead into the basement of a pub where we met our host. He wanted to talk to us about the science and psychology behind virtual reality, artificial intelligence, the human mind and psyche before the show started. Fair enough. I find the subjects fascinating.
During this talk a man in the crowd kept muttering and slapping himself in the face. Because we’re British we all avoided eye contact and gave him a wide berth. As the talk continued and I waited impatiently for the show to actually start, the man’s behaviour worsened. He screamed and shouted, crept up on people and started freaking out at the models and pictures on the walls. It took us a while to realise that he was a plant and part of the show. We were so distracted watching this man lose his mind and the tour guide plough on with his speech that we didn’t notice a second actor among us. He kept his sights fixed on the first actor, as though scanning him and asked the host questions to continue the show. Finally the tour guide addressed the first actor and the scene reset, with our host beginning his speech from the start. This time the props around the room came alive. A harlequin head started jingling. Two automatrons at the back of the room stepped forward (similar to Angel I don’t understand how the actors were able to remain still for so long!) and the pictures suddenly developed creepy handprints.
It was interesting to observe (and participate in) crowd phycology. We all josseled for posision to stay away from the actors. We started guessing who among us was also a part of the show. I honestly believed that the Japanese girl behind me was part of it till she left because she “felt the creepies”. The actors carried on as though they weren’t there, like robots but of course we watched the show the first time round like robots ourselves, didn’t we?
I’ll give Virtual Reality seven automatons out of ten.
Death Suits You
I have a very dark sense of humour so when I speak to my American friends I have to be careful what jokes I say so I don’t accidentally offend. Personally I like comedians such as Jimmy Carr and Frankie Boyle but I appreciate that they aren’t to everyone’s taste.
The comedian Sam Hooper acts as the personification of death and talks about his favourite kills throughout history. He views himself an unappreciated genius and considers each and every death an art. Hooper incorporated interactive dance, spoken word, rap, poems and song into his performance. He rants against the invention of penicillin and the popularity of the Heimlich manoeuvre. He rejoiced at the outbreak of smallpox, swine flu and the Ebola virus and giggled at world disasters such as Pompeii. Hooper was an absolute joy to watch.
Hooper also approached topics many would consider taboo such as school shootings, abortions and suicides. I personally didn’t have an issue with these jokes, I thought their delivery was ingenious but I can understand why others would be upset.
I’ll award Death Suits You nine grim reapers out of ten.