This is what The Fringe is about. Amongst all the comedy, cabaret, theatre and musicals you stumble upon something so strange, other-worldly and weird, almost spectacular in its conceit that it’ll work. And it does.
Shame, it seems, is something no-one on the planet can entirely escape. Embarrassment likewise but as an emotion shame is likely to linger longer in one’s system. Trixa Arnold and Ilja Komarov began collating stories from all members of society in Switzerland on the topic before expanding their net to include Russia, Pakistan and The Netherlands, building up an archive of over 450 ‘stories’, some a couple of paragraphs long, others simple one-liners. In an intimate setting, in front of an audience just shy of twenty Ilja begins by simply reading some of these out, the inside pockets of his jacket containing different categories of stories, some long, some short, some light-hearted, some more serious. These are, at turns amusing, entertaining, moving or just plain strange. And then it’s time for a song… Trixa sits manipulating obscure 7” and/or 12” vinyl’s from a small library of Stockhausen-esque offerings on a small record player, speeding up and slowing down, scratching back and forth, providing an eerie ambient backdrop for Ilja’s classical guitar and rich-timbred voice. But wait, he’s singing in Russian so – in the tradition of Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues – they’ve brought along some boards containing subtitles, inviting a member of the audience to stand at the side performing the necessary flipping. It’s a lot harder than it looks, by the way. It’s as the first song reaches the midway point that you realise this REALLY SHOULDN’T WORK. Ilja’s inserted a thin strip of paper over the guitar’s bridge (and thrusts a long wooden cocktail stick between the fingerboard and strings on the second song) but nothing can disrupt the dreamy, hypnotic atmosphere, leavened by lyrics with more than a touch of Ivor Cutler, not to mention a healthy shake of bleak melancholia.
It would be easy to dismiss the show as incoherent, trying to work out where and how the songs fitted in, but Ilja talked of his direct, current shame regarding his own country’s ongoing behaviour in the Ukraine and the shameful boorish creature masquerading as England as a result of Brexit was touched upon. Trixa confessed to feeling ashamed of the entire human race whenever elements of it go to war and suddenly the apparently amusingly meandering lyrics came into focus. For the root of most shame seems to lay in the knowledge that someone, somewhere has been hurt deeply and is – unnecessarily – suffering.
Running until August 28th (1.30pm, but not 15th or 22nd) at The Demonstration Room, Summerhall. Tickets https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/shame-on-you
Reviewer: Roger Jacobs
Reviewed: 13th August 2022
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★