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Pulse 2012: The first weekend. Day two

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There is a feeling among reviewers that the all-pervasive Edinburgh Fringe is now wielding an inappropriate amount of influence over its smaller siblings. Indeed, it does seem that audiences are being fed a diet of Edinburgh-bound, unfinished fodder that often seems to comprise little more than raw ideas.

Should festivals such as The New Wolsey Theatre’s Pulse be used in such a way? Or is its purpose to expose audiences to near-completed work, while acting as a springboard for a northern pilgrimage? After all, audiences are still expected to pay for each performance – surely that implies a certain standard of quality. The debate continues to rage.

That being said, the second day of the Pulse Fringe Festival brought an interesting array of work, beginning with NOLA, a script-in-hand, verbatim piece from Look Left Look Right, which tells the story of the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico that made BP something of a toxic brand for some time. Told effectively through the voices and imagery of those directly affected by the disaster, NOLA (New Orleans/Louisiana) is a powerful piece that brings home the full force of man’s impact on the environment and our failure to enforce policies of corporate social responsibility.

Jo Bannon’s Exposure is a unique and unsettling experience that combines sensory deprivation with a full-on analysis of how we regard the superficial appearance of others. Bannon lives with albinism, which affect her skin and hair pigmentation, as well as her sight. Her audience is always just one person in an enclosed space – in this case a stuffy cupboard – and no words are spoken in the here-and-now but rather recorded and then delivered via a set of headphones. By way of retinal scans and photography, Bannon explores how she is regarded by the outside world? Performance or gimmick? The answer probably lies somewhere between but that the experience is an engaging and poignant one is undeniable.

Shôn Dale-Jones’ creation, Hugh Hughes, is something of a Marmite character. You either love his home-spun Welshness or you don’t but there’s no denying that Hugh is a beautifully crafted creature with more depth than initially appears. From Hugh’s debut in Floating (2006) to the current work-in-progress, Stories From An Invisible Town, an extended family has evolved including, in this outing, sister Delyth (Sophie Russell) and brother Delwyn (Andrew Pembrooke).

Explorations of lives past on the isle of Anglesey soon uncover frictions and dynamics best left behind closed doors and the occasional foray into darker areas of the fictional family’s life give the work far more texture than previous ones.

Keeping light and shade right at the forefront is Hannah Ringham’s one woman Free Show (Bring Money). Indeed, there is probably more shade than light as Ringham’s thrice-married, divorced, and widowed creation aggressively manipulates her audience into handing over hard cash for this “free” stand-up show. This is a woman deep in debt and desperate to fill the coffers, whatever it takes.

It’s undoubtedly a powerful performance and the deeper resonances of Ringham’s soliloquy on the relative value of money do not go awry. However, the question remains what, like Exposure before it, Free Show is doing on the Pulse programme. Ringham is not an emerging artist and Free Show is not a new work, having already appeared at Edinburgh and on tour nationally over the past year.


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