Sunday, August 6, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'Good With Maps' at C Primo, 6th August 2017


Good With Maps reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

There are two things you need to know about the hero of Good With Maps: she's a freshwater person and she's good with maps. This is how this introspective, touching little monologue begins, with performer Jane Phegan surrounded by a fleet of tiny tinfoil boats and a stack of travel books. What follows is a show about the joy of travel and discovery, sutured to an emotional recounting of her beloved father's ordeal with Parkinson's.

It quickly proves to be a notably well-written show, ladling on evocative language: "the clouds were like giant cauliflowers", "the terrible regularity of meals" or an invalid as "an immigrant on the threshold of a dark night". It makes it easy to get drawn into the passion for adventure, easily buying into an enthusiastic paean to the Amazon river and its many delights. 

The author's trip to the Amazon, including a lengthy stop off in rainforest-bound city Manaus, is romantic and inspiring - the show excited to explain interesting details of the brief rubber boom. Over about 1880-1910, this pit stop of civilisation amidst the untamed wilderness saw untrammelled wealth as the result of its global monopoly on latex. Wealthy wives would send their laundry to Paris, horses would drink champagne and cocktails rattled with diamonds instead of ice cubes (though that last one doesn't sound much fun to me).

I love a good history lesson and Good With Maps is studded with juicy nuggets of trivia I kept filing away for later use. Some of the stuff was familiar to me - I recently reviewed an art exhibition about Henry Ford's failed industrial utopia Fordlandia, and Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo is one of my favourite films of all time. So when the show talks of tramp steamers chugging down the hazy curves of the Amazon, my heart beats a little faster too.

The names of famous explorers also dot the show. There's a bit of apology for being fans of these imperialistic, starch-shirt, stiff-upper-lippers who set out to stamp Britain on the world, but you can't help but thrill to the basic idea setting out to where the map ends and seeing what's there. Good With Maps recognises that there aren't really any gaps left to fill these days, but adds the uplifting coda that there is still "more than enough discovery to go around" left in the world.

This travelogue is interspersed with the story of the author's family. Her father sounds like the perfect paternal figure - intelligent, kind and inspirational. So it's all the more tragic when he suddenly seems different on the phone and begins to suffer physical debilitation. This dovetails into a poignant and poetic musing on the tragedy of ageing and illness, concluding with a depressing litany of indignities suffered on a geriatric ward.

Thing is, I kept waiting for these disparate story strands to merge and, while they kind of do, it wasn't quite as satisfying as I'd hoped it would be. I can follow the emotional backbone of the show in showing how her father's personality has influenced the author, but the show doesn't quite tie a bow on top of the whole thing. It comes very close, but not quite.

Next up is a weirder criticism - I only realised after the show that the writer (Noëlle Janaczewska) wasn't actually performing the piece. Rather, it was performed by an actor. I accept that this is a bizarre criticism, but I was a little put out at this. I was properly emotionally invested in what Jane Phegan was saying and easily assumed she was talking about her own life, leaving me feeling a bit short-changed when I realised that every little hitch in her voice and moment of weakness was a performance.

It's perverse to criticise Jane Phegan for being entirely convincing in her delivery, but it makes me wonder whether I might have had a different reaction to the show if I'd have had time to read the programme prior to the show beginning.

Despite that little wrinkle, Good With Maps is a cut above most confessionals. There are a lot of these monologues about at the Fringe, each one bristling with trauma, pain and hard-won triumph. Most of them are mediocre and some annoying self-obsessed. But this show spoke to me and tickled my sensibilities, managing to be confessional and personal without feeling even slightly vain. A quiet and modest triumph.

Good With Maps is at C Primo, Edinburgh Aug 6-13, 15-28. Tickets here.

Tags: , , , ,

0 Responses to “Edinburgh Fringe: 'Good With Maps' at C Primo, 6th August 2017”

Post a Comment

© All articles copyright LONDON CITY NIGHTS.
Designed by SpicyTricks, modified by LondonCityNights