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Forest Fringe: Week 2

Jo Bannon in Alba Jo Bannon in Alba

Last week a morning at Forest Fringe began with a magic show. This week, with the yardarm barely at the brink, Project O punch a savage hole in the cultural objectification and degradation of women and their bodies in their work, O. It is a ferocious dance piece that twerks, rages, stops, droops, struggles and pulls its audience squirming out of their comfort zone. Its anger is expressed in movement that flips from bold and self-possessed to pornified and dejected. In a moment that will be mirrored in Action Hero’s Wrecking Ball later in the day, the audience are handed a beer and asked to lounge on the stage. But where Action Hero use this bargain of complicity to gradually draw us into passivity, Project O confront us with the ugly face of racial and sexual stereotyping and commodification. This is what an intersectional arse-kicking feels like: painful, defiant and right.

Emma Frankland’s euphoric Rituals for Change is far more precise, but matches Project O in its near-perfect twinning of content and form. A hymn to mutability, an earthy, messy sacrament to constant evolution and alteration, it charts her gender transition in a series of gnomic, interlocking actions. Every movement or blending of materials gives birth to the next, as Frankland founds an occult semiology of the changing body.

The symbolism in Jo Bannon’s Alba is both starker and more elusive. Bannon’s own albinism is the theme, and specifically the role this played in her early life, but her performance is a bleached-white poem of domesticity and miracles. Bannon appears first as a Scooby Doo ghost, rising gradually from the ground draped in a sheet and awkwardly arranging props across the stage. Over recordings of her mother’s memories of her early years, Bannon irons and makes tea, washes her hair and then methodically dries it. When she emerges at the end of this ritual, another magickal working to match Frankland’s, it is as a part-divine thing, her feather-white hair draped over her face like a birth caul, or the wings of an angel.

The work in Forest’s week two programme is so intense, stepping onto the streets for Bill Aitchison’s The Tour of All Tours is like bursting to the surface for air. Aitchison’s off-site tour takes in some spectacular views of the city at sunset, but as he describes the differing strategies of tour guides across Edinburgh, his real theme is the socio-economic underpinnings of the city’s tourist trade. His tour would benefit from greater precision, and a wider sweep of the tours he discusses, but it is an absolutely charming and thought-provoking stroll.

Search Party’s My Son and Heir is an appropriately extreme close to the day, a hilarious, spasmodic demolition of the structures of parenthood, and their cultural peers in royal weddings and baby Georges. The platitudes of genetic ambition are thoroughly torn apart as Pete Phillips and Jodie Hawkes degenerate from perfect parents to sacks of bile and disappointment, and the good times drain away in a churn of regret and recrimination.

Forest may be an oasis of calm and common sense away from the flyers and star ratings and ruthless exploitation of the Fringe itself, but week two proves it can still kick the living shit out of you, and don’t you dare forget it.

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Verdict
A programme as rich in ceremony and wonder as it is furious and unforgiving
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