Eleanor Westbrook embodies what I love about the Fringe. Theatre-maker, performer and queen of silliness, she has created a wonderfully surreal and genuinely funny one-woman-show in her offering Big Berg. Sadly, it’s almost impossible to describe: you had to be there. Dressed in a skin-tight silver onesie, and armed with only a walking stick, a ridiculous false moustache and an ingenious cagoule, she brilliantly evokes the beauty and the harshness of the Antarctic, while hilariously re-enacting Scott’s futile (and doomed) 1911 attempt to be first to reach the South Pole. Thrown into the mix is Shackleton’s great escape from his ship the Endurance, which was crushed by pack-ice in 1917. What’s funny about that? I hear you ask. Well, in Westbrook’s hands, pretty much everything.
It is a very great pleasure to be in the presence of a talent like Westbrook
It is a very great pleasure to be in the presence of a talent like Westbrook. She is hugely watchable, whether engaged in a hilarious slapstick routine in which Scott is unable to keep upright on a heaving deck, or evoking in spine-tingling song the implacability of Antarctica and man’s insignificance in the face of nature. In a show comprising of so many great moments it is difficult to pick a favourite, but Scott’s reaction upon discovering that Amundsen has beaten him to the South Pole had me in stitches.
Westbrook’s Scott is barking mad, of course, and tellingly, he is most famous for his failure and tragic death. With this gesture, Westbrook raises some interesting philosophical questions: is it important to be important? Why do humans strive to do what has not been done previously? Why does everything have to be the biggest, the best, the first, the fastest? And crucially, why do we keep diaries and journals? Who are they for? Is this, too, an attempt to be special, to be remembered, to make one’s mark in the world?
Big Berg is still evolving as it makes its way to Edinburgh, and currently it concludes a little abruptly. Once Westbrook finds an ending truly worthy of the rest of this fabulous piece, it will be formidable. So look out Auld Reekie, Big Berg is heading North and you won’t want to miss it.