Alma, a Human Voice (4 stars)

Alma, a Human Voice

High-brow drag show taking inspiration from Jean Cocteau

Drag, at the Fringe, does not have to be a drag; Alma, a Human Voice aims at the more intellectual end of the scale. If you've not got a working familiarity with the works of Jean Cocteau, the goings-on here might seem a little impenetrable, but it's worth the effort to unpack this original, defiantly high-brow show from Italian company, Nina's Drag Queens.

As a theatre company, Nina's Drag Queens make frequent use of lip-syncing, and this show's title specifically references Cocteau's A Human Voice, in which a woman engages in a despairing telephone conversation with a lover, who is soon to marry. Lorenzo Piccolo acts out the woman's despair while the pre-recorded voice plays. A second strand is easier to grasp; Alma Mahler, wife of Gustav and a notable composer herself, finds her relationship to admirer and artist Oskar Kokoschka unexpectedly extended when he decides to have a life-sized doll of the famed Viennese beauty constructed. In both cases, there's a concerted effort to construct and deconstruct femininity in common, and that's ideal matter for a thoughtful variation on the drag show like this.

This is Piccolo's chance to shine, slipping in and out of different wigs and dresses, his sinewy form dressed and stripped as he grafts away at portraits of both Alma and Cocteau's nameless woman. Piccolo's ability to create and inform these characters neatly parallels the endeavors of Kokoschka and Cocteau, two men who create and define an imaginary woman in very different if not opposing ways.

Alma, a Human Voice is a tricky, very challenging piece, but one that eventually manages a strange kind of alchemy; as a consideration of the idea, or the ideal, of a muse, it takes obscure material and creates something that's both comprehensible and moving for audiences willing to make the considerable effort required.

Summerhall, until 26 Aug (not 13, 20), 11.50am, £10 (£8).

Alma, a Human Voice

  • 4 stars

Nina’s Drag Queens There are two kinds of madness in this one-person drag play: the one experienced by Oskar Kokoschka, who turned his lover Alma Mahler into a life size doll; the other belonging to the nameless woman on the phone in Cocteau's The Human Voice. Alma Mahler is a free soul, a muse, the other is a mediocre…

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