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Anguis review at Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh – ‘quirky debut play by Sheila Atim’

Janet Kumah and Paksie Vernon in Anguis at Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh. Photo: David Monteith-Hodge
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Because winning an Olivier award, being cast in the Game of Thrones prequel series, composing incidental music for theatre, dabbling in a modelling career and studying biomedical science weren’t enough, the amazing Sheila Atim has now written a play.

Her debut is an odd one. In it, Queen Cleopatra is recording a podcast – Desert Island Discs meets The Life Scientific – with a virologist called Dr Kate Williams. We’re in a recording studio with microphones and baffle walls.

Williams attempts to get to the truth of those Cleopatra myths, from donkey’s milk to asp bites, while dealing with her own problems that could potentially see her struck off.

Chunks of interesting dialogue suggest that this could be another talent in the Atim arsenal, with refinement. And her script, scouring everything from conflicting ideas of feminism, especially as women of colour, to propaganda and fake news, has some really juicy speeches for Paksie Vernon’s forthright Cleo, who keeps turning the tables on her interviewer.

Vernon has a wonderful voice as she picks up a guitar and sings Atim’s haunting songs. Janet Kumah is great as a distraught, distracted Kate, too.

The three disparate elements of Cleopatra, virology and podcast make for a bizarre combination, kind of funny in their absurdness, but never quite finding a way to unite.

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Quirky debut play about Cleopatra from Olivier winner Sheila Atim