It is difficult to know where to start with Violet Fox’s autobiographical show about her fraught relationship with her mother – I’ll take a note from her and start at the beginning.
An explosive and immersive piece of spoken word
In the circus tent stadium of the Roundabout at Summerhall, a turfed circle laden with golden packages awaits our solo artist of the night. Happy Birthday Without You is a surreal glimpse into the memories of Violet Fox, from her very first days to childish afternoons in the park and teenage parties on rooftops. Her mother is both a present and absent figure, brought to life by Fox’s wickedly funny impersonations and her bitterly honest recollections, yet noticeable in each story by her late appearances and failure to provide the warmth and love associated with a maternal figure.
Fox’s style is nothing short of fantastical; buzzing with manic energy as she stalks the space, the fabulous range of vocabulary, impressions and narrative styles that take place depart from mere spoken word and take up residence somewhere in the label of ‘performance art’. As a result, this performance does feel very self-conscious; self-referential comments abound as Fox acknowledges her strange fusion of styles, a technique sometimes bordering on the overindulgent. This is surely inevitable, however, when such a personal and individual story is being laid bare.
The sharp contrasts used when lighting the stage – switching rapidly from a solo spotlight to a warm wash with expert timing – illuminate the dichotomy present in this piece between drawing the audience into the story and isolating Fox within herself. She is at once untouchable and unavoidable, excitedly handing out props into the audience before stepping back onto the golden parcel set pieces to perform an extract from one of her childhood memories.
This is an explosive and immersive piece of spoken word; Happy Birthday Without You is bold, surreal, experimental and thought-provoking. See it if you can.