Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Edinburgh Fringe: 'The Unmarried' at Underbelly, 8th August 2017

The Unmarried reviewed by David James

Rating: 4 Stars

Luna is the woman you see illuminated for a microsecond in the strobe. It's 4am, you're in an amphetamine haze and there she is. Compared to the sweaty crowd around her she seems to move in slow motion, as at home on the dancefloor as a fish in the sea. Where the hell is she going when the party stops?

The Unmarried is a poetic monologue, interspersed with live renditions of 90s dance hits, that takes us through seven years of Luna's life. We meet her at fresher's week, she's ditched her hometown boyfriend is revelling in her newfound independence. It's like she's drawn a very short to do list: dance and fuck. But just as she embarks on the life she's dreamed of, enter Pete. Originally 'Fun Fuck Pete' after a night of amazing sex, he convinces her to go out for coffee. Unbeknownst to her, the handcuffs have just clicked shut.

And so the years spiral by. Wanting to preserve their independence they start trying to work out an open relationship but it doesn't work (it never does). Before Luna knows it the relationship has become long term: evolving from stranger to fuckbuddy to girlfriend to plain old partner. Luna and Pete even get on the property ladder, nurturing their flat like they would a child. Domesticity is quicksand and she's suddenly up to her neck.

Written and performed by Lauren Gauge, The Unmarried's Luna is electrifying company. She's forthright, honest and unapologetic, demanding happiness, sexual fulfilment and excitement like it's her birthright. Her eyes flash with intelligence, her body language is coiled and predatory, her joy infectious and exhilarating. She embodies freedom so fully that, as the play opens, you find it difficult to imagine anyone tying her down. But, like the proverbial frog not realising it's being slowly boiled to death, it's the slow trap that gets her.

Gauge displays a dab hand in conveying the slow burn tedium of routine sex, box sets and bourgeois non-conversation. As she puts it: "Love without lust is all bread, no crust", despairing as boring men drape themselves in stuff from the "Gap summer season sale". There's a palpable misery to scenes in which she watches Pete fixing the fence in the garden, wondering him when they turned into 80-year-olds. Her bondage is realised in the show's best visual moment - when she's cocooned in microphone cord like a fly in a spiderweb.

It takes a certain amount of skill to properly convey Luna's existential blues. After all, on paper, she's got a pretty great life - even I had to suppress a small pang of annoyance when she was complaining about the miseries of owning your own London flat. 

The Unmarried would work perfectly well as a monologue, but it's elevated by the presence of Georgia Bliss and Haydn-Sky Bauzon. She sings and he beatboxes, the pair providing a crucial rhythmic backbone to the show. Together they manage to infuse songs that repetition has beaten the emotion from genuine with poignancy - even making Nelly's Hot in Herre bristle with weird wistful longing.

This is a show about liberation from drudgery, boredom, conformity and predictability. 'Settling' for a peaceful, untaxing life is giving up - if you're not willing to push yourself forward then what's the point in getting up in the morning? A lot of Fringe shows stray into the realm of the self-obsessed: gloopy confessionals that exist more to wank off the performer's ego than convey anything useful. The Unmarried blows past all of this, instructing its audience to recognise their desires and not settle for anything less.

The Unmarried is at the Underbelly Med Quad Aug 9-13, 15-20, 22-28. Tickets here.

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