At first sight it would seem that Boondog Theatre's latest outing at the Edinburgh Fringe is somewhat ironically titled. Transferring from the crate they were packed in at Pleasance last year to the more intimate C Venues space, there is something inappropriate about the title Showmanship when one is being hurried down the corridor of a large hotel to a small box room and seated in front of a basic set up of two chairs, a table and a few candles. Cirque Du Soleil this is not. But through an hour-long monologue the room is transformed into a smoky circus sideshow in Depression-era America and what seems to be a by-the-numbers monolgue piece eventually becomes something much more powerful.
Showmanship turns a poky hotel side room into another world
It does this by utilising the company's greatest strength, the acting of its solo performer Lucy Roslyn. Last year Goody, a two-person show about a man and his trained monkey, featured Roslyn in the latter role displaying a physical transformation to an extreme degree. This year the transformation is less physical and more verbal, as a period-accurate accent is adopted and sustained impressively throughout. The issue with this show is that Roslyn's bewildering acting talent dwarfs both the venue the show is performed in and the quality of the script she is performing.
The story is thin but strong, focusing as it does on a fortune teller who refuses to buy into many of the tricks and illusions of her counterparts but nonetheless acknowledges the falsehoods of her way of living. As she travels with the circus she recounts to the audience notable moments of her life, weaving them together with an explanation of how she does business and what sets her apart from her competition. The issue comes with a lack of progression as Roslyn paints a beautiful picture but for a long time fails to give it a third dimension. Relying more on establishing tone than developing story, it is easy to imagine one losing focus in the middle section of this show.
However, for any fans of emotional powerhouse acting, Showmanship is the place to look. Once the show pulls its loose threads together in the final third, the performer finally gets the opportunity to really show off her range and it pays off. The perfect blend of darkly comic, brutally emotional and bitterly cynical, Showmanship's beating heart is put on full display through the eyes of Lucy Roslyn. Though the middle third of the story lacks somewhat in emotion and falls a little into repetition, as a pure display of acting it is worth the wait. Showmanship is the ability to transform the mundane into the magical, turning a hat and a rabbit into a magic trick and so on. Showmanship turns a poky hotel side room into another world and a solid but flawed monologue into an emotional tour-de-force.