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Umbilical Project Uncut: Geronimo
Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Andrew Haydon
August 2006

The Umbilical Project is, on the surface of things, a radical sounding idea - take the same play to the Fringe in two different versions - one version directed by its writer in its whole, unabridged form; the other version given to a wholly separate director to do with as he pleases. But when you think about it, this is what happens to most plays. Where's the actual experiment here? Granted, it's ambitious of the company Kandinsky to put on the same play by a virtually unknown young writer (Lucy Kirkwood) twice in two different productions at one festival, and, yes, seeing one version does immediately make one curious about what the other version does differently, but not a lot more so than, say, the four Tempests, or the innumerable Macbeths on display.

Geronimo starts off in a dinner party full of Grim Up North London advertising types oozing ghastly platitudes and nasty generalisations. Ben (Thom Tuck), the husband of hostess Theo (Clemmie Cooke), is having an affair with Gail his secretary (Kerri Hall), we discover; shortly before his wife. So far, so recognisable. Then the husband is suddenly struck down with a stroke. Is taken to hospital, and is diagnosed with post-stroke aphasia - unable to move the right hand side of his body, or remember more than one word: 'yes'. It appears that the first scene was an anomaly; it's a play about how the wife, who hates the husband, is forced to care for him as if he were a child. Then there is a flashback, something about wanting children and not being able to have them. This is strange as we know the couple have a child since periodically the wife is seen telling it a more than usually bloody bedtime story about wolves. Back to the present and Thomas Paine (yes, the Enlightenment pampleteer Thomas Paine) is sitting in the living room having a chat with the wife and demanding to know if she has any more Kit Kats.

From here on in, the plot gets ever more confused, threading increasingly disparate elements from English philosophy to Hindu myth until in the penultimate scene the writer chucks a whole Blasted-style raid by soldiers into the room amidst a lot of apocalyptic sooth-saying concerning the end of the world, and the fire of 2000 suns, and the coming of Kali the destroyer, before winding up with Theo and Ben sat under a table looking as if they will be trapped together in this post-apocalyptic world forever.

From a number of potentially interesting starting points it is difficult to resist the conclusion that Kirkwood didn't quite know when to stop chucking new ideas into the script. After a while, the sheer relentlessness of this febrile invention starts to look untidy. There are, by the final act, at least five semi-formed plays on stage clamouring for attention. It feels curmudgeonly to criticise such youthful verve. There were times when this frenetic activity felt as if it could have been the work of a young Caryl Churchill - such is the apparent desire to really give the conventions of theatrical expectation a good kicking. Sadly, at the same time, the play remains at the level of an interesting experiment, rather than becoming a satisfying drama. Still, for all that, it is tempting to think that this will not be the last we hear of either writer or cast, and with this much energy behind them, that's no bad thing.


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