Brighton Fringe has become the place of comedy, burlesque, circus and general silliness for sure, and that is not a bad thing, of course it’s not. I am all for commercial intelligence when it comes to the performing arts, bums on seats give us hope for the future of creative performance and the venues in which they can take place. But it has been refreshing to see so much real theatre in this years fringe programme in some of the city’s small venues.

Yesterday I went along to see some new writing in what must be one of the newest and smallest. Yellow Book is a small bar and cafe in York Place, when I say cafe I am not sure what food they offer but I did spot a selection of Tunnocks’ confectionery on the counter. Up a precipitous stairway you will find a tiny theatre that cunningly make use of an archway between two rooms to create a proscenium, a witty twist between studio theatre and traditional and one that certainly put a smile on my face.

On this occasion I was there to see two women of the theatre that I greatly admire. Sam Chittenden is one of the most talented theatre makers that I know, as writer, director and performer. Her award winning musical play, Clean, is one of the best things to have come out of the fringe for many years and her recent direction of An Experiment With An Air Pump at New Venture Theatre was simply brilliant.

Fenia Gianni is an actress, writer and theatre maker with unlimited energy and passion. I recently saw her in Can’t Pay, Won’t Pay, the Dario Fo comedy with teeth in which she was so dynamic.

They make a remarkable coupling in this experimental outing as two female voices creating their words individually then bringing them together in performance.

Fenia Gianni

Gianni is vibrant both as a writer and performer, Her Shadow is a taught reflection of a young women dominated by a mother who oppressively rules her life, her every moment filled with a daunting routine of study and diet. A women obsessed with steering her to success, to a tyrannical view of conventional body image and beauty, and living her own life through her daughter, mimicking her dress, her every move. And as the story unfolds the impact of this tyrant plays out in the daughter’s life and relationships. Gianni is an extraordinary performer, animated, vibrant and volatile throughout.

Sam Chittenden

Chittenden at the start seems to be her silent counsellor, watching and listening, never interrupting, an almost priest-like presence in confessional. Then she reads from her own work in progress, Meantime, a novel set in 19th and 21st century Brittany. It’s a beautifully sculpted image of a rural life in the time of war, tinged with heartache and sadness and evoking a sense of time that took me back to the first time I read Madame Bovary, simply beautiful.

Her second piece, Unhinged, is a based on her experiences of internet dating. It too is tinged with a sadness but in equal part is hysterically funny. The lies told, the false ages, stolen pictures and thinly veiled truths about intentions make this part of the whole very entertaining but also very provocative too.

The whole could very easily have become a feast of man-hating venom, misandry most cliched – but it doesn’t. Instead it is the voice of disappointment, a voice wanting to find something better and feeling let down and sad.

Writing separately then coming together to create this piece has worked so well, two very different voices finding and refining a unity in performance that had the audience rapt from the start to the finish. As a work in progress this was a rehearsed reading, but in truth the presence of the books seemed appropriate and in no way detracted from the whole.

Andrew Kay

25 May

Yellow Book theatre

York Place


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