Yesterday was my first full day at the Edinburgh Fringe. I saw five one-woman shows: Eve at the Traverse, Good Girl at Just the Tonic, Polaris at 52 Canoes, Dust at Underbelly, and The B*easts also at Underbelly. Here are some thoughts on Polaris and Good Girl. (Reviews to follow for the other shows.)
Polaris, 52 Canoes on Grassmarket (Free Fringe), 2.45pm
Polari, Hannah Raymond-Cox tells us, is the secret language used by gay men in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, an “oral sextant” of queerness. The show is about the importance of language to belonging, reflecting on the idea that without language you can’t have a distinct culture. Hannah takes us through an autobiographical narrative, covering her life in San Francisco, moving to England, coming out as bi, and finally feeling ready to love someone and be loved.
I haven’t seen much spoken word so I wasn’t sure what to expect from a full-length show. Subtle rhymes ripple through the texture of the piece, studded with vibrant images and beautiful turns of phrase. As well as language, food is an important metaphor – a sign of care, nourishment. It becomes its own language of belonging. At the end of the play, she offers us a cup of tea, welcoming us into the community she has created.
I would have liked a bit more to be made of Polari, as it seemed more of a framing device than a central part of the show. But it might well have been there – not understanding Polari means that I might not have registered it. I am a gay woman but I don’t speak Polari. There’s a sense of loss, then, held in tension with Hannah’s open and welcoming performance. There’s no longer a secret code of queerness. We have to do the hard work of belonging ourselves.
Good Girl, Just the Tonic at the Mash House, 1pm
Good Girl combines storytelling with character comedy to tell a story of GG’s coming of age as a heterosexual woman in Yorkshire in the 90s. Naomi Sheldon’s impressions of GG’s four friends, including the eczema covered Sarah (‘Scratch scratch’) are very funny. Her recreation of their emergency meetings – one is called to study their vaginas – are the most enjoyable part of the show. GG and her friends ask the questions that teenage girls face with prurience and stress: Who’s started their period? Who’s had an orgasm and what’s it like? Do you masturbate?
GG has a ball of anxiety inside her, primarily caused by, the show suggests, from the pressure to be a ‘good girl’, which makes her want to explode. She tries to deal with it by dissociating from feeling, but it just comes back, worse. Later she learns to accept feeling intensely and also has better sex. Good Girl is a funny and enjoyable account of the pressures young women face as they negotiate growing up. However, it felt a bit predictable. Young-woman coming of age tale definitely seems a fringe sub-genre. Good Girl didn’t differentiate itself, while Polaris did.