A fairly unshocking freak show
This article is from 2011.
In the world of the freak show there is, Lynda Radley’s play informs us, a hierarchy. At the top are the ‘reals’ – people like bearded lady Countess Marketa (Irene Macdougall), Siamese twins Lillie and Millie (Ashley Smith and Nicola Roy, mirroring each other brilliantly), and the hermaphrodite George/Georgina (Lesley Hart). Then there are the ‘mades’, represented by the incredibly fat Tiny (a scene-stealing Robert Paterson). Most lowly are the ‘gaffs’, who fake their freakish qualities. In Riley’s circus, Serena (Natalie Wallace) is the only gaff, though her mermaid act is topping the bill, sustaining the troupe as they struggle to find audiences.
Facing ruin Riley (John Buick) hits upon a very modern idea – that people might pay to see his performers turn from sideshow acts into regular folks. His becomes, essentially, a makeover show. George/Georgina resists, still wanting to wear the elaborate costume that makes her left half male and right half female. Only after several dark events have unfolded does she realise that she can choose to be neither gender, but rather, uniquely, herself.
The elegant stage mess that constitutes the circus’ caravan site feels familiar. The play’s characters, too, form part of a contemporary obsession with the lost, thrilling days of non-pc entertainment. Though whereas, for example, David Leddy’s Sub Rosa last year took those thrills to mesmerising limits, Futureproof merely tickles some issues of identity. To our adjusted liberal minds, the characters aren’t freaks, they’re just people. But there’s no enjoyment in watching them blend into society. We want for them what we want for ourselves – not to be gawped at but still to feel individual. Radley purposefully deconstructs the mystique of otherness that makes peering into the past so fascinating and, in doing so, limits the play to being an interesting and well-presented, but very comfortable, psychological drama.
Traverse Theatre, 228 1404, until 28 Aug, times vary, £17–£19 (£12–£13).