Sofie Hagen's followup to last year's Edinburgh Comedy Newcomer Award-winning show Bubblewrap, Shimmer Shatter is a beautifully heartfelt call to accept yourself as you are, foibles and all.
A logical follow up to last year's tale of stalking Westlife and other mental health issues, this year's leaps back and forth between her childhood and last May. Hagen shares the tale of her first marriage, in childhood – to a stick no less, with two girls from school as witnesses and the disturbed family dog. Then to more recent history and how she fell in love with a boy who believed in dragons.
As is her style, Hagen shares all – even a handy feminine hygiene tip which is far too much information. But mainly the material stays above the belt largely in discussing her depression, anxiety issues and self worth.
It's a very real and raw confessional and yet Hagen looks deceptively together on stage. She's calm, collected and smiley – it's hard to believe she's talking about the same person. But then, as she notes, on stage is where she feels she most belongs.
Here she talks about her useless dad who weaves in—but mostly out—of her life, the life-saving psycho therapy she had as a teenager, taking her ex-boyfriend semi-hostage and her realisation that she might have some control issues.
The show is an acknowledgement of her quirks—from the childhood wood husband to her preference for the tight four walls of the toilet at parties—and the acknowledgement that it's ok to just be yourself rather than someone you feel you should be. Even if that means believing in fantastical reptiles. Heartfelt, uplifting and frank.
Zoë Coombs Marr's Trigger Warning is an intriguingly clever parody: a blend of gender politics, a male comic, a female comic, and a little insight into the Gaulier school of clowning for those who were wondering. Soon the three personae intermingle, become confused. Which one's the real one? Who knows? Does it matter?
This is a fascinating one-woman play with comedy as its subject, rather than a comedy as such. Indeed, the one who tells the most gags is Dave, a macho male comedian who has had to go on a clown course to change direction after the "Feminazis" complained about him. He's also required to give a trigger warning for anything potentially offensive – which is basically all his punchlines. So off he went to Paris to train with Gaulier. To explain, as Coombs Marr does, Gaulier is the French clown with a school where many of the acts coming through the Fringe have trained in recent years, and thus has become something of a running joke within comedy circles. Dave's "clown" is a "a shit one" – a lesbian called Zoë. Dave meanwhile has been both metaphorically and physically silenced.
The macho gags are uncomfortable – they're meant to be. You reflexively laugh at the sexist comments – they're ironic, aren't they? Coombs Marr is in character, isn't she? Indeed on the night she has a lot of people in the audience who laugh heartily at each of those gags. It's an effect that is disconcerting, an interesting dichotomy. As these characters crisscross faster and faster events get a little messy almost losing direction, but nevertheless this is a beguiling, thought-provoking piece of work.
In contrast it's almost impossible to put a star rating on the craziness going on in Beth Vyse as Olive Hands in All Hands To The Pump (3 stars). Especially as Michael Brunstrom is bravely stepping in as Olive's son—Jazz Hands—without having seen the show or knowing the script. Never mind. We'll excuse him brandishing the script. But, hilariously he finds that the action frequently diverges from what's on the print out, hopelessly shooting the audience a look of "that wasn't written here". But it only really serves to add to the anarchic spirit of the show.
We're in a submarine with leopard print-loving former day-time TV star Olive Hands (Beth Vyse). I can't recall why, but it doesn't matter. The aforementioned Brunstrom is her forlorn son, plus they're joined by a roster of characters so varied you wonder how the hell Vyse thought them up: an octopus with a series of puns for limbs, Jane McDonald's not-gay daughter, and Paddy McGuinness (not the real one, a funnier fake version). We're going to North Korea to rescue Olive's ailing career. Along the way there are red alerts, leopards and a familial revelation.
At one point we leave the room singing "leopard print submarine" (to the tune of the song The Beatles let Ringo sing). It's a risky move as it might allow any bolters to do just that. But we're all committed – we lost the few bolters at the beginning when first Vyse/Hands appeared missing a shoe and with bra exposed.
Amidst the surrealism, Hands is a straight-talking northern matriarch, there's nothing quite like the sound of calling someone a bellend in a Manchester accent. On this occasion chaos reigns but they get through, the narrative emerges and there's a discernible ending. Along the way there are plenty of big laughs–it's exactly the kind of thing the Fringe is about.