Tuesday 8 September 2009

Oh, My Green Soap Box - Pleasance Courtyard

One of the luxuries of writing long-form, post-fact reviews of shows is that it gives an opportunity to engage with other reviews of the same piece which simply isn’t available to the overnight critic. Of course, there’s a lot to be said for not knowing what everyone else is saying, it avoids knee-jerk contrarianism (is that a word?) for a start. At the same time, without wanting to turn into a review of the reviews, of meta-criticism, having other reviews as co-ordinates can be very helpful in clarifying one’s own thinking.

I already touched on Lucy Foster’s Oh, My Green Soap Box in my first post-Edinburgh post, in which I called it “adorable” and “heartbreaking” without much by way of explanation. Since one of my biggest bug-bears in Edinburgh this year was the ludicrous proliferation of decontextualised words of praise, here’s some context...

In many ways, Oh, My Green Soap Box is a pretty straightforward one-woman-show. Long-time Improbable Theatre associate Lucy Foster talks to the audience, tells us stuff, shows us videos (see above), does a little dance and generally *is*. On stage.

The nominal subject of the piece is Foster’s concern with matters ecological. The piece opens as the launch of a campaign. On the surface it’s a campaign to save the polar bear. As the ice-caps melt thanks to global warming, polar bears will have nowhere to live and will eventually become extinct, so the thinking goes.

Mercifully, Foster doesn’t really go into the thinking too much. This is not a piece that wants to bash us Al Gore-style over the head with proof, or lists of things that we ought to be doing to save the planet. Anyone looking for a fiery bit of eco-propaganda will be disappointed – everyone else can breathe a sigh of relief. What follows is in fact a nifty subversion of the one-person “confessional”/“biographical” show. Again mercifully, Foster doesn’t actually come right out with: “When I was younger I did such and such” – instead the piece somehow contrives to make the extinction of the polar bear play out like a reflection on the most devastating break-up you’ve ever experienced. And it’s all the more moving for it. So much so, that I’d say the eco- thing is a bit of a blind and that actually the real subject here is heartbreak and loss. Imagine Improbable doing Crave, only about Polar Bears, and you’d not be far off.

Foster’s stagecraft is similarly subtle – so much so that you don’t really realise it’s happening until, looking back, you are confronted with an imaginative arctic world created – like a child’s game – from bedding and a sheet draped over a couple of chairs that had been unobtrusively hanging about. I disagree with Matt Trueman that as a performer “she is always a touch too controlled and measured in her delivery” nor did I “find myself wishing that she’d let go, abandon the fixities of the text... and really talk to us as people”. For my money, Foster does exactly that – there’s a brief section where she looks each audience member in the eyes in turn and makes a brief gesture. Touching or silly, there is a real sense of being connected with the performer on stage. Nor did I find her “too controlled”. Perhaps it’s a matter of seeing different performances, or having different perspectives/emphases. It may even be something as trite as having been touched by different things, but I found ...Soap Box sparky, insightful and almost chokingly sad in places. A beautiful piece of work.

Oh, My Green Soap Box transfers to the Oval House from Tuesday, 03 November to Saturday, 07 November at 7.45pm

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