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I Am Woof/Where Have All the Ladies Gone?
Published on Thursday, 12 August 2010

4 stars

theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall (venue website)
6 - 14 Aug (not 8), 4:00pm (5:00pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

I’m not a huge fan of double-bills… but this, without doubt, is a clever one. The two monologues – one set in a man’s world, the other in a woman’s – at first seem far apart, but over time turn out to share motifs and themes.  And the connections are more than superficial; both show characters who are damaged in ways even they perhaps don’t know, and both offer a poignant glimpse of the hidden fragility of youth.

First up, I am Woof is the purest form of one-man show, performed by actor Robert Taylor in casual clothes on a bare stage.  Responding to questions from an imagined audience, the old soldier nicknamed “Woof” looks back on his youth in the Forces – a baptism of fire which, he insists, he doesn’t regret.  But Woof isn’t entirely well; rational discussion’s interspersed with moments on the edge of madness, filled with lyrical repetition and reinforced by physical mantras.  Something must have made him into the trembling shell we see on stage… but the details are left to our imagining.

It was a truly compelling performance, believable and intense.  But we’ve heard a lot about the military mindset over the last few years – and the paths the script took at first seemed well-trodden.  Then it changed.  Towards the end, I suddenly understood the role we, the audience, had been cast in; I at last grasped just why this old soldier was addressing his lecture to us.  And as I found myself thrust into the very centre of it all, the tingling down my spine proved it had spoken to me more than I’d known.

The second piece, Where Have All The Ladies Gone?, could barely stand in greater contrast.  Again delivered as a lecture, but played strongly for laughs, Victoria Kember’s monologue begins as a catty taxonomy of the types of modern “lady”… the ones who consider Oxford Landing Chardonnay the pinnacle of sophisticated life.  But as Kember points out, “you can’t define a lady unless you have a slut standing next to her”, and as time slips by and the wine slips down we witness her own alcohol-fuelled decline and fall.

It’s a funny and accurate portrayal, but I didn’t connect as strongly with this second piece as I had with the first one.  It’s tempting to put it down to the gender gap; it’s no surprise that I identified more with a young soldier than a girl who just wants to have fun.  But there’s more to it than that, I think.  Just as I’d questioned whether Woof really said anything new about the soldier’s lot, I asked what this one had shown me that I couldn’t see in the Cowgate on any Saturday night… and this time, I didn’t find an answer.

That’s no discredit to the actress, though, and the two pieces stand together in a kind of symbiosis: Kember’s character heightens your understanding of Taylor’s, and indeed the other way around.  I’m obliged to report with disapproval that the paying punter is short-changed by 15 minutes of the show’s advertised hour.  But don’t let that put you off; these short, sharp monologues are thoroughly deserving of your money, and of a precious slot in your Festival day.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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