From the bewildering title to the closing dance number, this show is an hour of surprises, both comic and moving.
Shaun Shears is the undisputed star of the show. The Southampton-based songwriter has long dreamt of performing at the Edinburgh Fringe but his condition – he has cerebral palsy and arthritis, and is in a wheelchair – has made it difficult. But here he is, presenting his “autobiographical indie musical”, with a passion and gusto I have rarely seen at the Fringe.
His wingman is Mickel Smithen, who has severe sight impairment; the highly likeable pair give a cabaret performance retelling how they came to be here, which is hilarious, touching and excruciating by turns, or often all at once. At one point, the audience was still pondering a poignant message Shears had delivered when he launched into a funky rendition of ‘Wheelchair Sex’.
This is both the show’s beauty and its main flaw: it is impossible to predict, but it is also impossible to truly connect with the performers. Shears has the charisma, character and comic timing that would not be out of place on the stand-up circuit, and is a very convincing actor. But he uses these, and often Smithen, as a sort of buffer, and we are left wondering what is real emotion and what is staged.
There were also technical problems – going beyond preview glitches – and it was far from a polished show, probably due to the lack of a director or an outside eye in rehearsal. Whether this is charming or irritating may depend on how much you are paying (their two preview shows of a six-night run are free, a brave move when paying for the venue), but there is much to enjoy here. Shears has considerable songwriting talent (he has been compared to Leonard Cohen), and Smithen, unconvincing at first, comes into his own as a dancer and in his surprise reappearance at the end, almost stealing the show. Almost.
With an audience of seven and with so much dedication on stage, I started out by willing myself to enjoy it. By the end I realised that hadn’t been necessary. Unexpectedly entertaining.