Dissecting the Fringe: Edinburgh Diary
Matilda Wnek & Rosa Robson, the duo who make up Beard, describe The Grin of Love, as mixing ‘sketch, clown, theatre and nightmare’. For some of us, the term ‘clown’ will always have nightmarish connotations, but Beard carefully disarm any such link. Their pocket description is in fact as accurate and succinct as one could hope for. Not hoping to match it for brevity, I can nevertheless fill in some of the details.
The Grin of Love is one sense an abstract work. Instead of sketches with discernible plots or scenarios, Wnek and Robson present a series of set-pieces, most of which bear a delightfully tangential relation with reality. But in another sense their work is rooted in the concrete. Rather than beginning with characters or situations, each set-piece is anchored in a particular prop or props (e.g., a glass of wine, a veil and some disturbing make-up, an orange and a banana) deployed in a particular way (to indicate, respectively, a bored person of substantial means, a twisted gentleman’s club, and the miracle of reproduction). Some of the props look ridiculous and are played for laughs, but more often they are entry points to an otherwise hermetic world, and vehicles for the performers to playfully explore their own presence on stage.
Almost every sketch features audience interaction, but in keeping with a recent trend (for instance, Ben Target) it is neither threatening nor humiliating. The first audience member brought up on stage is asked to participate in a weird rite where the humour lies in the strangeness of what happens rather than what is happening to the victim. Later on, the entire audience is invited to wear blindfolds, to throw beans through two hula-hoops in answer to survey questions, and to collaborate in the supposed magic powers of each performer.
This way of approaching sketch comedy is the polar opposite of such troupes as The Pin or Minor Delays, who use few if any props and tend to provide variations on a more orthodox characters-in-a-recognisable-situation formula. But for sheer inventiveness and the detail with which they have worked out their ideas, Beard are a match for any of these groups. The Grin of Love may look ramshackle and deliberately odd, but it shows all the signs of having been thought through in some detail.