Edinburgh Reviews Day 1: Dirty Great Love Story and Helen Keen – The Robot Woman of Tomorrow

Last week we reviewed a selection of Edinburgh Previews from Tea Fuelled Arts. We enjoyed them so much that this week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and trusty reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eyes (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. no physical theatre).

 – written by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Dirty Great Love Story

A charming piece of theatre-poetry that was co-written by Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna (well known by Sabotage as part of the Dirty Hands collective); this was the story of a guy and a girl (helpfully named Richard Marsh and Katie Bonna) and the tempestuously messy missteps and boozy fuck-ups that make up their relationship. There are also moments of astonishing loveliness.

For anyone who’s a fan of the rom-com genre, then this is for you; it’s the platonic ideal of a romantic comedy, filled with mistimed meetings, misunderstandings, weddings and all the much-loved obstacles that can be thrown in the way of a potential couple. The plot is well paced and perfectly formed, embracing the ‘get-girl-lose-girl’ formula to great effect.

If you’re not a fan of the rom-com genre, then this still may be a show for you. There are plenty of knowing winks to the form, from Richard refusing to chase Katie out into the rain as ‘it’s not a story, people, this is real life!’ to Katie’s friend C.C. (played hilariously by Katie) exclaiming ‘this is, like, so romantic, it’s just like in a film!’ after a particularly public profession. And even if you’re a hopeless cynic you can still immerse yourself in Bonna and Marsh’s superb poetry.

As well as themselves, Katie and Richard play a variety of other characters, such as the uproariously foul-mouthed Westie (‘she likes you, she’s damp!’) to the very ‘ra’ C.C. (who has a brilliant ‘Ya, really?’ joke towards the end) and Matt Priest (who ‘sounds like a seal that went to Eton’). The pair slip seamlessly into each character like putting on a new pair of (NHS) glasses, getting some great laughs from the supporting cast (to the extent they almost upstage, well, themselves).

That said, there are great laughs all the way through. Katie and Richard have a firm grasp of comic timing and plenty of snappy one-liners, eliciting a multitude of laughs with Richard’s fecklessness (‘I had a dog named Katie’), Katie’s drunkenness and lots of perfectly distilled social awkwardness.

Oh, and the poetry. Katie and Richard both have a talent for smooth rhyme that keeps things flowing, and they turn phrases in such amusing and lovely ways that they breathe gorgeous dirty life into the story (that could’ve been a bit dull in other hands). And they thrive in the two-hander format, exchanging cleverly crafted lines and biting repartee, as well as some adorable social ineptitude.

To summarise, in its imperfection this is as close to perfect as a love story can get for me: grubby, awkward, self-aware, incredibly funny, occasionally bitter, and oh so sweet.

Star Rating: 5/5 (as good as rom-com’s gonna get)

A Dirty Great Love Story is on at the Pleasance Dome, 1-27 August (not the 14th) at 1.20pm. Ticket prices vary (but you can get a cheap preview 1st-3rd and 6th-7th is 2-4-1).

Helen Keen – Robot Woman of Tomorrow

Helen Keen’s show sets out to explore ‘real and imaginary futures’ in a deeply amusing ode to geekery, sci-fi stories and technology through history. She successfully brings together the way science fiction influenced her own life expectations, with the way science has advanced over time and changed societal expectations and hopes for the future. And Keen does this with excitable glee, geeking out so enthusiastically over the coolness of the robots, people and ideas that she imparts to the audience that they cannot help but be infected (by the enthusiasm, not any kind of weird science virus).

She has some accessible autobiographical material about working in an office (where she needed regular ‘despair breaks’) and growing up in a small seaside town (the only virgin aged 14, she read medieval bestiaries and pondered the possibilities re: unicorns), which is very funny and endearing. But more impressive is how this material was woven into her underlying narrative about the power of escapism and stories.

Strangely, given this is a show about the future, she is at her most alive and entertaining when talking about the past, illustrating how different aspirations and inventions (be they technological or creative) have changed the world. For example, her superbly feminist section entitled ‘Futurists or Felons’ examined different women whose response to oppression was either to invent or turn to crime, getting the audience to pick which was the criminal or the progressive (with some amusing overlap).

But it’s in her two stories of historical pioneers where she really shines. She tells stories about photocopiers and clockwork brides that highlight their ridiculosity, while also emphasising how cool it is that these things existed. And she does this all with the help of her trusty robot sidekick ‘The Enormo-Maiden’ and some hilariously hackneyed shadow-puppetry. The mixture of Keen’s engaging storytelling and the cleverly constructed puppet-shows works like rocket-fuel, allowing the show to take off to new heights of wonder.

The only weak points are the somewhat anti-climactic ending, and the show’s lack of genuine belly laughs, but there’s still plenty of mirth to be had amongst the enlightening tales of technological tomorrows.

Star Rating: 4/5

Helen Keen – Robot Woman of Tomorrow is on at the Pleasance Courtyard, 1-26 August. Prices vary (cheap previews: 1st-3rd and 6th-7th is 2-4-1)

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