An Honorary Man
Turning the Handle
Glimpse; Part One (Edinburgh Production)
Philippa Hammond delivers two glimpses in this show, separated by 1,500 years but linked by a theme of women bowing to the will and needs of men.
In the first she is Hypatia of Alexandria, a director of the library there. Or a pagan whore, if you believe the Christian hierarchy. Hypatia is, however, a full-blooded and beautiful woman, aware of the pleasures of her body and the delights of her mind. So much so that her students have voted her “an honorary man”. She accepts this dubious accolade with gentle irony. As she accepts her murder and mutilation with the inevitability of the conflict between pure intellect and religious dogma.
In the second piece, we are in Edwardian England and she is married, against her parents’ will, to a prototype film maker whom she supports in everything, even stripping for his “what the butler saw” movies. After losing her husband, she continues her career to support her children, having stoically traded her home life of Hampshire parties and Home Counties ease.
Hammond is served well by two three-dimensional, literate and dramatic scripts written by Thomas Everchild and she displays brilliant talent in interpreting them for us. It is spellbinding and entertaining, heart rending and humorous. An hour was all too short.
Glimpse; Part Two (Edinburgh Production)
Little Girls Like to Kiss
Glimpse is a collection of four solo shows presented by Philippa Hammond, two at a time on alternate evenings. In this case it’s a smoke-filled 1940s private dick yarn and a take on life at the shallow end of the theatrical talent pool. And very good they are too.
The first, Little Girls Like to Kiss, shows the gumshoe’s ubiquitous breathy secretary in her own right. Marcia Blouse is long-suffering, pouting and wisecracking. She is also fragile – lost without the defining influence of her absent boss? Not likely – more afraid that others are about to discover her guilty secret.
Cracks in the cool, sassy facade grow and meet, forming a portrait of paranoia. Hammond herself twists with the plot her character reports; first manipulative and catty, then desperate and cornered. Ultimately Marcia survives, and takes control again. Fittingly, this brings out Hammond’s best – understated and impressively controlled.
The second vignette, Backstage Whispers, has the same sense of command in script and acting. Hammond excels as the aspiring actor and skirts around the pitfalls of self-indulgence with admirable restraint. Even the “behind the curtain” jokes are sharp and entertaining.
Again the writing is taut, wry and understated. At best reminiscent of Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads, this is a touching tale of a call-box tart who lives and dies in 18 lines. Glimpse is impressive, and well-named; fleeting moments of subtle theatrical insight.
Fanny Hill (Edinburgh Production)
Deliciously Risque Play Makes Lust A Big Laugh
Fanny Hill first appeared with her Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure in literary circles in 1749, and it’s astonishing to think that for more than 200 years, until 1970, this book remained firmly on the banned list.
In Afterthought’s production a company of nine players sets about re-enacting the diary of the naive young country virgin turned expert pleasurer of gentlemen. Thomas Everchild’s adaptation for the stage catches the essential lusty humour and irreverence of John Cleland’s original book, and gives the cast a firm grounding from which to work.
The regal strains of the harpsichord link each scene and are in direct contrast to the starkness of the set, which is completely black but for two tables and a stool. This lack of set dressing concentrated the attention fully on the characters, relieved the audience of unwanted distractions, and brought the intricacies of the 18th century costumes – designed by Isobel Drury – to the fore.
Actress Philippa Hammond is instantly likeable as the much-sought-after Fanny, and brings an unexpected grace and vulnerability to the character. Between them the remainder of the cast portray myriad characters, presenting the illusion of a much larger company. As the perils of Mistress Fanny unfold, they manage a whirlwind of costume and character changes with ease. Some nice comic touches keep the pace up tempo. One scene in particular, in which an unwanted suitor tries to prise Fanny’s legs apart, is priceless. While some scenes are deliberately overplayed, the direction is always tasteful, and you never quite see as much as you imagine you have. Nevertheless, the inclusion of any number of peccadilloes, and an orgy scene, make this very definitely adults-only.
The whole piece is firmly set in the bawdy school of low humour. Touches of Benny Hill and Carry On surface briefly, but mostly the intelligent script explores the base reality behind the veneer of genteel respectability in an enchanting and highly entertaining way. The sex scenes are handled with either the aforementioned comic touch or, more often than not, a sensuality and sensitivity that is surprising and most welcome. While in this day and age Fanny Hill might be considered tame, its capacity to outrage is still there, as demonstrated. last night by the audience reaction to the naughtier scenes, and outrage is an element that this production uses to its best advantage.
Afterthought Productions have a scorcher of a show on their hands with this one. It’s sure to be a hit with Fringe audiences. Get your ticket now, because Fanny Hill is going to sell out.
Edinburgh Evening News