As the audience files into the Mainhall at Summerhall (venue #26 of the Edinburgh Fringe), we are greeted with a smile, biscuits and coffee or teas by our gracious hostess and starlet of the show, Jess Love – “dangerous girl”. Framed as an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, Love sets the stage for her solo performance with “Hello, I’m Jess and I’m an alcoholic”. And we are off, let the addiction adventure begin. From discovery to recovery, Love viscerally and unapologetically bares all as she keenly unfolds her story of family, career, and her ancestral discovery of Julia Mullins – “notorious strumpet”- that served as the catalyst toward her rehabilitation from addiction.
There was never a dull moment as Love seamlessly slips between narrator and actor. In this carefully crafted and courageous, non-stop autobiographical performance, the audience rode an emotional roller coaster of horror and delight. She skillfully employed a wide array of props, music, recordings, costumes layered into with a variety purposeful and virtuosic circus skills and theatrical chops. Is it circus? Is it theatre? Is it performance art? It is all of the above. It is a performance that does not deserve or need a box. It’s circus, theatre and performance art melded into a single show. This performance offered a shining example of the capacity of interdisciplinarity can offer a cohesive and meaningful performance.
Her dynamic solo performance was informative and relevant. Addiction is real and the audience was exposed to the graphic and startling realities of addiction expressed through a collection of raw episodic vignettes. We experience Love’s hitting rock bottom, the search for answers, the pitfalls of recovery, and so on. Additionally, she cleverly shares the scientific research on addiction through her audience participation moment with Genetics Bingo. In this moment, Love uses the unlikely pairing of the familiar with unfamiliar to inform-Bingo and genetic research on addiction. This visual and cultural corollary brought awareness about a contemporary social issue.
But, don’t fear. Love never leaves her audience in the darkness of addiction too long. She quickly swoops in with a humorous catharsis always finding the balance between humor and horror. Even in the midst of the madness, Love weaves in precious vulnerable moments that draw the audience closer.
Dramaturgical continuity was a refreshing highlight of this show. Love embraced the challenges of melding theatre and circus in a single performance to tell a story and accomplished this with ease. Her collection of nonlinear vignettes employed the most effective medium (circus, theatre, performance art) to deliver the narrative. The performance keenly weaved her circus skills into the dramaturgical narrative. I appreciate her choices of craft employed for her storytelling, that fed and strengthened the dramaturgical delivery. The risk and prowess that lies at the heart of circus served a greater dramaturgical purpose than that of just being there for spectacle. For example, her trapeze act that embodied her dance with death as she pushes the limits of her body and its addiction. The vertical space magnified the proverbial ledge that addicts must battle in addiction. In terms of circus, it was refreshing to experience a dramaturgical delivery that takes precedence over the arbitrary insertion of spectacular skills. InNotorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl, craft and narrative were mutually dependent.
It was clear that Love is a seasoned performer. This London based, Aussie native, has had an illustrious career that has stretched the globe. Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl presented by Love is a Drug and directed by Dimitri Hatton was a premier performance at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival of 2018. This was my first time seeing Love’s work and it will not be my last.
Notorious Strumpet & Dangerous Girl will delight you with (without spoiling the show) courageous, honest, witty, vulnerable, captivating story telling delivered through powerful theatrical presence and collaging compelling moments of circus with hula-hoops, trapeze, bottle walking, skipping, clowning, and Bingo all while sipping coffee or tea and eating biscuits.
If you’re interested in a candid and gritty performance of dark comedy and twisted storytelling that eloquently quilts circus and physical theatrics, this is the show for you.
Feature photo courtesy of Brig Bee