A man stands over a table looking at photographs of an elderly woman and man. He appears to be psyching himself up as if for a wrestling match. There is wrestling, but perhaps not quite in the way you expect. Part of the Danish Digital season at this year’s Edinburgh fringe, Himherandit’s Champions (ZOOTV) takes the form of an installation performance in which Andreas Constantinou strips himself bare in more ways than one.
Ursula Martinez’s A Family Outing, in which she appeared on stage beside her mum and dad, was one of the great fringe shows of the last quarter century, and Constantinou covers some similar territory as in recorded conversations we hear him talk to his therapist but also his parents about his sexuality. There is an added poignancy because this version of the piece was filmed after the recent deaths of both parents.
This feels like a performance that costs the performer to perform it. It lets us understand that in scenes shot in the green room before and after, and in a delicate coda which shows Andreas at his father’s funeral. Like therapy itself, this is a quiet meditative show and one in which what goes unsaid is as important as what is spoken out loud. Constantinou’s father is disappointed in his son, he wants him to be a man. Constantinou talks of a deep loneliness as he wrestles with his role as a son, an artist and a gay man.
This is unflashy, deeply felt, and contemplative work. It bides its time. It refuses to be hurried, and it is all the better for it. It deals with rejection head-on and recognizes that however much we find ourselves at odds with our parents and find alternative families, we can still find ourselves tugged by love and the need to be accepted for what and who we are by the people who brought us into the world.
There is something of the installation too about Tom Bailey’s Vigil (ZOOTV), an extraordinary and extraordinarily devastating requiem for the world's extinct and endangered species. It is too late for the Bigmouth Rock Snail and the Tajikistan even-fingered Gecko. Two hundred species are disappearing every day.
Bailey perches on a glass box of bones as a blank screen flashes up the names of the extinct and threatened species like a roll call of the fallen. After a while he starts to move. Is that the white-footed sportive lemur itching its bum? Or the thespian grass mouse doing a little over-acting? Of course, it is. There is something both absurd and touching about the way Bailey tries to make us see what can no longer be seen. The penitent mussel mediates on what it is like to be all alone—the very last-- finding it hard to open up, but clinging on.
Without care this could be impossibly whimsical, but this is precise and carefully grounded stuff. The bones scatter. The names of the lost sound like machine gun fire. The stage looks as if it the site of a massacre. There’s are the sound of sirens. Too late. Too late.
In very different vein comes Peter Michael Marino’s Planet of the Grapes, a live remake of the 1968 classic Planet of the Apes using whatever comes to hand. It is lo-fi, low budget and delivered with a rather delightful Blue Peter DIY vibe.
The glorious thing about this endeavour is that it acknowledges that it’s an entirely ludicrous enterprise, and yet at the same time it is celebratory: it reminds that even when a pandemic shuts theatre down, theatre-makers will always make and they make using whatever resources are available to them. There is something of Forced Entertainment’s table-top Shakespeare series about this piece in which a human mission to a distant planet arrives only to discover that grapes run the show. The astronauts are played by wine corks. Very talented wine corks.
It’s years since I saw the movie, and I sometimes found it a wee bit dark and hard to follow, but the homemade nature of the show is fun. And if the script often creaks with age, the hour unexpectedly points up the hubris of human beings and our belief that we should and always will be top of the pecking order. Half way through I started looking at my glass of Shiraz a little differently, and sometimes I thought that maybe I caught it looking at me.
Cover image from Planet of the Grapes