May there be Kate Newman plays at the Edinburgh Fringe for many years to come!
To say too much about the premise would be giving the game away, so let’s just say the show is both set in the present moment within the performance space itself, but also in a bedroom at different moments in the future. We watch an abusive relationship unfold in reverse over the course of four years, quickly discovering that all is not as it seems.
The couple are brought arrestingly to life with some great performances from Linford Butler and Emily Bickerdike, and Newman’s violent blocking gives off Sarah Kane levels of casual brutality. Both characters are multifaceted and their behaviour shifts dramatically over the course of the play, but Butler and Bickerdike give confident and consistent interpretations of their characters’ twisted mental states. Their acting is just the right level of full-on to leave the audience bewildered but not overwhelmed by the play’s lightening pace and twisting plot.
As for the writing, Newman shows off strength after strength as a young playwright. She brilliantly captures how the phrases and foibles that define the relationship develop in reverse, and the play’s insistent meta-theatricality is far from just a gimmick, but an important thematic device that adds layers of meaning to everything that happens on stage. The writing is by turns insightful (describing how obsessing over a person can permanently alter the neural connections in your brain) and often oddly hilarious (being told to appreciate an uncomfortably full bladder as part of the performance).
Certain audience members may dismiss certain moments as overly self-referential and a little too ‘arty’ for their own good, but this just comes down to a matter of personal taste. If you’re into experimental theatre that interrogates the nature of performance in all aspects of our lives, then this production will be music to your ears. Either way, it’s impossible not to appreciate the play’s remarkable construction.
This is a bold and brash theatrical experience, after which you’ll never be able to listen to The Turtles’ Happy Together without a faint sense of menace. May there be Kate Newman plays at the Edinburgh Fringe for many years to come!