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Day 6 - Edinburgh Fridge

Organisation is key. They say. I planned today to see Friendsical today at 1pm, however when I got there, they turned me away, pointing out that today is their day off, and there was no show. Instead I then made my way to Fringe central to do some work.

I had then planned to meet Andrew Tomlins at 3pm. Andrew is the man behind West End Frame, who I have known for a few years, he successfully ran West End Frame for five years before retiring the website, at the point where he had over 26k twitter followers. Andrew inspired me to launch my own blog. Two years later, Andrew is now back with a weekly podcast.

Having arranged to meet, Andrew got distracted and pushed it back to 5pm, which was fine with me, as I had work to continue with. We then met and grabbed a crepe from one of the many food vendors around the Fringe. The choice of food is incredible, although a little expensive.

We chatted and caught up and I then walked Andrew over to where he was seeing Chistina Bianco. On the way we bumped into West End Wilma and his handsome acquaintance. The pair had never met, and so I introduced them. West End Producer said “I always enjoy meeting a frame”, to which Andrew replied “And I always enjoy meeting a producer”, as they became acquainted, I flirted with his acquaintance.

I then made my way to watch the Choir of Man.

This is a show I had seen last year with my friend Abi while she was in Edinburgh too. My friend Denis leads the cast of nine in the show which brings together nine ordinary looking blokes who together form a choir in their pub. They perform reworked versions of classic pop and rock songs including 'Chandelier' and Adele's 'Hello'.

When I saw it last year, I was instantly blown away, and bought the CD before returning to watch the show again on my final night. Collectively these nine men have exceptional voices, and the arrangements of these songs are genius.

Last year I had drinks with Denis in a local bar and was introduced to Tom Brandon, who my friend Simon represents.

Denis and Tom are back with the choir after touring America with the show, I gave them both a hug as I arrived and then took my seat, I was lucky that there was a spare seat front row centre.

As the show began, once again, I was in awe and adulation. This is such a great show, and as I watched the men perform, I observed how much they connected with the audience who were loving every minute as much as I was. This show goes beyond a being such a concert, it's a spiritual experience.

Denis was originally in The Commitments in the West End when I met him, and is a beautiful soul, having not seen him for a year, I had missed him. I came away feeling elated and happy having seen the boys and this show again.

I then made my way to watch the only other show I was seeing today.

I had been invited to watch Bit of Sunshine by their producer Lola who had emailed me. Their show opened today and runs only until 23rd. So I put it as priority.

To get to the Greenside venue at Royal Terrace, I had to walk a precarious route through the park at night, as the show was at 9.55pm. Managing not to get mugged or worse, I got to the venue where a ticket was kindly waiting for me.

Initially I was impressed as Nicole Zwilback the writer and performer of this one woman play walked out on to the stage confidently and began to address the audience. She was articulate, and engaging and a little sassy. Speaking in, I assume her native American accent, that or she does a very good one. She references the film Lady Bird which suggests that there have been some updates to this play that was written and won the Best Play at Stockwell Playhouse's One Act Festival in 2016, before then coming up to Edinburgh for a limited run that summer. Lady Bird was released in 2017, so it's fair to say Nicole didn't rip off the film, but certainly the tone of style of the character shares remarkable similarities to Saoirse Ronan's character.

To begin with, I was enjoying the play and was drawn in by Nicole's commanding almost intoxicating draw, until the shift began, and Nicole's character Kira began talking about trauma and her eating disorder. An alarm bell starting to ring.

Something wasn't connecting for me, the energy was all wrong, as Nicole continued to portray Kira with a petulant upbeat angst. It was difficult to form empathy with this character, as progressively it felt like Nicole was systematically trying to shock the audience with revelations about Kira losing her parents in a horrific car accident, then losing a child, then her job then a friend to suicide. One after another, she attempted to reinforce and manipulate the audience to feeling that Kira is a victim.

As an actor it felt like Nicole was presenting her emotions rather than feeling them, which surprised me knowing that she has come through East 15, a school which notoriously teaches it's students through the 'method' technique. At East 15, students are encouraged to spend some time devising characters and living as them.

When I watched Alex Gwyther in Ripped earlier this week, I witnessed Alex physically embody his character and his feelings, drawing them out from a very dark place within himself. I felt concerned watching him, for his well being, but this was his commitment to his role and his storytelling and his brilliance as a writer.

Bit of Sunshine at moments read more like an American indie film, with lines that could have easily been lifted directly from any film from this genre. As Kira expresses “I got a flat, it's not a lot but it's mine”.

As a writer, you have to ask yourself why are you telling this story and why now? If it's not your story to tell then you have to tread even more carefully to ensure you are handing it sensitively and appropriately.

Alex Gwyther acknowledged that Ripped was not a personal account or drawn from his own experiences, and yet it felt as if it could have been. This I attribute to Alex's intention for writing about the subject matter, and the amount of research he had done to make his character truly authentic. When it came to Bit of Sunshine my assumption is that this is not a personal account of Nicole Zweiback. I could be wrong and it would be naive of me not to realise that anybody and more than most have at some point had some form of eating disorder at some point in their life. But whether Nicole has or hasn't is incidental, as an actress she should be able to convince you as an audience that she has.

In Ripped, Alex went to the extent of having a temporary tattoo transferred to his chest for every performance. It left me pondering whether the tattoo was real, and whether this was really his story.

With Bit of Sunshine, Kira's character refers to scars on her hands, which actress Nicole doesn't actually have. Immediately it alerts you to the fact that she is playing a character. It's an attention to detail that has been overlooked.

I was next surprised when Nicole used audience members as part of her show, and assigned characters to them, giving them instructions as herself. Every time she did this, she slipped out of character and reminded us that we are watching a piece of fiction. I continued to struggle to believe or invest in Kira as a character.

Last year I watched a fantastic play here at Edinburgh fringe called Three Years One Week and a Lemon Drizzle, written by Alex Donnachi based on her own experiences with anorexia. Her play was formed with her sister Kate, about how her illness impacted their relationship. It was honest and genuine, and later transferred to the Canal Cafe in London, where I hosted a post show Q&A.

You can watch this here:

When it comes to eating disorders, I have a personal insight into them, as one of my best friends is currently battling her's. Understanding the disorder as much as I do, I think perhaps I am a bit more sensitive to this topic, which is why I might sound jaded and aggressively critical of this piece.

But this is the point I want to make. This piece, its performer and its producers seem to show no regard, sensitivity, or consideration for people who might watch it and be affected. To me it seemed they were simply using the topic as if it was trendy, rather than having an invested care.

I was very surprised to learn that Bit of Sunshine was originally brought to Edinburgh in 2016, and had two directors. This is not the work of one person who has decided by herself to put on a play and bring it to Edinburgh. Nicole has had support and encouragement from the team behind We Are Kilter, which appoints itself as an emerging theatre company founded by Katie Coull and Ed Theakston.

When Katie Coull took to the stage after the show, shaking her bucket, asking people to spread the word about their play, rather than addressing anyone who might have been affected by this piece, and offering any support, after care or guidance, she simply waved around a few leaflets for a charity called Beat, a UK based eating disorder charity, which it felt like they had simply googled when they whilst thinking, “We should probably do a collection at the end”.

I came away with the overriding sense of disappointment in We Are Kilter, for not recognising their responsibility in handling a play that tackles such a sensitive subject.

The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here:

And the audio version can be found as a podcast here:

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