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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

  Simple Girl
Underbelly Baby Belly 3, Edinburgh

Andrew Haydon
posted 28 August 2007

Melanie Wilson slinks into the room, stands behind a vintage microphone beside a keyboard or sampler, and begins to tell a classic spy narrative. She positions the audience as its hero. ‘You lie on the bed. Your body is...’ and so on.

The tale continues. Wilson herself enters the story. Then she breaks off and appears to come out of character, she moves out from behind the microphone, the house lights come up and she is talking to us directly. This version of ‘Melanie Wilson’ undercuts her previous femme fatale incarnation with a gawkier, more hesitant charm, setting up an obvious tension between this ‘real’ self and her fantasy self. I’m assuming it makes sense to refer to the creation onstage using the writer and performer’s own name. That said, at no point does the piece feel anything like ‘confessional’ theatre or a performer using herself as a source for material.

From this point the show continues to fluctuate between these two sides of ‘Melanie Wilson’ setting up and exploring the fascinating disparity between the two creations, seeing parts of one surface in the other. ‘Real’ Wilson is revealed as a timid but singleton, while fantasy Wilson suggests images of 20th century Mittel-European glamour, evoking black and white spy movie seductresses. If you wanted to be really dumb, you could summarise the overall effect as a sort of Bridget Jones for Martin Crimp fans. Actually, the Crimp comparison holds – this is a near-perfect single-voice complement to his excellent play Attempts on Her Life, sharing its brilliant use of iconic cinematic imagery.

As a performer, Wilson is simply astonishing. Her delivery is spectacularly detailed. Watching, it feels like almost every word of the script has been given particular, very specific gestures and positions. The way in which she suddenly widens her eyes at a particular moment or undercuts a word with a slight tone or sarcasm or contempt is strangely elaborate and utterly bewitching. It is difficult to adequately convey quite how other-worldly it is. A review could easily use up hundreds of words just attempting to describe the way her hands move. The script of the piece is more than equal to this performance, offering a febrile, labyrinthine bundle of ideas and narrative.

The mixture of calculatedly kooky lo-fi warmth and coolly seductive film noir glamour is a winning aesthetic. Simple Girl is an intricate, clever, gorgeous delight.


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