A Guy, a Girl, a Lawnmower / Husbands and Other Lovers

5 October, The Eastbourne, Hastings
Fringe in the ‘Stings 2017

A Girl, A Guy, A Lawnmower

In the fading daylight, from behind what used to be the service counter of the old Opera Kitchen, pop a pair of shrouded figures, mismatched in height, striking a Beckettian tableau. What are they wearing? Hijabs? Witches’ robes? No, they are nuns, or at least disguised as such. Dropping their cover, they reveal themselves to be the two halves of The Boomtown Okra Bats: Steph Hobbs, in a spangley-skirted leotard, and Richard Martin, sporting a ridiculous Boris Johnson-esque shock of hair.

What follows is a tale as old as time – boy meets girl, boy misrepresents his wealth and status to girl, girl refuses him sex until he pops the question, misery ensues. Told through acrobatic solos and pas de deux, interspersed with dialogue in the form of the most depressing children’s book ever, we are given a glimpse of what happens after happily ever after. Chekov’s wig is unceremoniously ripped off to reveal the raw and ugly truth, where materialism and alcoholism are substitute for real connection. Though the subject matter is heavy, it is delivered with humour that borders on slapstick. The choreography is part rhythmical gymnastic flourish, part contact improvisation, as the dancers play off various props (and not one, but two lawnmowers) and each other. The story moves from the stultifyingly mundane world of social expectation, through disappointment and contempt, to absurdity in gesture and plot, such that is fitting for a Fringe show. If you missed it this time catch them again on Saturday at 6.30pm in the Eastbourne.

Husbands and Other Lovers

An hour later, night has fallen and the space is transformed as extra seats are crammed in to accommodate the crowd. They’ve all come out to see local favourite Verona Nicholson, and the directorial debut of the queen of Hawke’s Bay drama herself, Lynda Corner.

Our protagonist, Maisy McGregor, potters on stage looking suitably dotty in a bright red overcoat bedecked by pockets in a colourful mix of texture and pattern. Corner daringly and deliberately denies the existence of the fourth wall by having Nicholson directly address and engage with the audience to hilarious effect. Suspension of disbelief is further muddled by setting Maisy’s purported dwelling place as one of the containers in Albert Park. It’s almost believable the she is a genuine old dear who wandered down the road into the theatre and, finding an expectant audience, took a seat to tell her story. And what a story it is – each pocket contains a memento of a lover past, creepily in the form of a small boy’s toy. Miniature cars, a tiny bicycle, and a baseball among others are produced and handled with care as Maisy recalls the lessons a life of love, loss and laughter has taught her. At times bawdy, at times raucously funny, at times poignant, the show covers the spectrum of emotion that makes up a lifetime. At its most intense, Maisy berates God, as though he were as present as the audience, questioning her purpose, contemplating death. She breaks the tension with an offhand quip, that we are all dying too. It bites all the keener for its dry method of delivery. But she leaves us with cause for hope, reflecting that if one’s friends are good people then one’s life can be deemed worthy. Looking around the room there are many good people. Many good friends.

Leaving the venue, I hear voices raised in song from the next-door Methodist Church, see boys in lavalava eating pies and hot chips waiting for their turn to practise for their White Sunday performances. I hear the distant roar of engines and the thump-thump of bass. On the corner there’s a group of people posing for photos in the gesture of pretending public art is a cock. In the distance, a group of men in ridiculous wigs and pants so tight that they border obscenity stride down the street. I recognise them as Tom Knowles and his band of eighties-inspired rockers. I know I should go home to bed right now but right now I also know that I won’t. Not while there’s such a wealth of culture and laughter and life right here on the fringes of the ‘Stings.

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