As the Edinburgh Fringe recedes further into the distance, the odds of me getting all my reviews from the festival into blog posts grow smaller. However, the next two shows are coming to Manchester this month, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to share my original British Theatre Guide reviews from the Fringe.
No Miracles Here
The Letter Room’s powerful show, No Miracles Here, focusses on central character Ray’s struggle with depression by using a dance marathon as a metaphor for living with mental health.
One layer of the narrative follows Ray through the gruelling hours of the Miracles competition, meeting judgmental former champions, fellow struggling dancers and supportive new friends. The messaging is never heavy-handed or sentimental—whilst Ray does turn a corner by the end of the show, it’s made very clear that this isn’t a finite happy ending and that there are no miracles.
This plot is framed as a live music gig by Ray and the Rayettes, a band built around the main character who perform different songs that track his journey. Each of the six cast members swap between instruments and solo vocals, proving themselves to be a talented and versatile bunch—the company also devised and wrote both the script and music, and their investment in the emotive subject matter is clear to see.
Initially, it seems as if the show will be rather static, but the cast soon step out from behind their instruments and throw themselves into the slick, energetic dance numbers. These, like the costumes, have a 1940s look and feel.
This truly original show is at once a moving, original exploration of mental health issues and an electrifying blend of live music and dance – it’s on at The Lowry from 20-22 September.
Flying the flag for the North West of England at the Fringe are Graeae Theatre Company and the Royal Exchange, who present Jackie Hagan’s new two-hander Cosmic Scallies.
Set in Lancashire town Skelmersdale, it follows a day in the life of Susan and her old school friend Shaun, who are reunited now that Susan has moved back to her old home town. It’s a darkly comic portrayal of working class life, referencing benefits, drugs, education, class divide and gender.
It also touches on disability, a subject that Graeae incorporates into all of its productions. Susan references being bullied at school because of her dwarfism, while Shaun asserts that her inability to walk as a result of her chronic pain renders her disabled. Captions are projected onto the set to heighten the accessibility of the performance.
Cosmic Scallies is very funny, particularly Shaun’s description of Skelmersdale life and its characters (Wheelchair Terry etc) but the issues faced by the characters are real, particularly in our current political climate. While Hagan’s script does protest against inequality—the double standards for gender, the tedious bureaucracy of the NHS—serious moments run the risk of getting lost in the laughs.
The final scene sees Shaun and Susan reliving their childhood memories, wrapped in battery-powered fairy lights because the electricity meter has run out of money—a sweet, striking image of positivity in the face of adversity.
Cosmic Scallies is on at the Royal Exchange from 27 September until 14 October.