High & Low | Edinburgh Fringe 2014 Reviews – Part 2

Southern-Fried Patti Smith: Christeene

Southern-Fried Patti Smith: Christeene

Click here for Part 1

AUGUST 2 – 22:10 – CHRISTEENE: The Christeene Machine

Southern-Fried Patti Smith in drag, with a dash of acid on a bed of sleaze.

Down in the Cowgate’s smoky Underbelly venue, the audience was being assaulted by a different kind of projectile fluid (see Part 1): a suspect jet of what we can only hope was water, emanating from Austin, Texas-based drag performer Christeene’s faux-vagina.

This prop pretty much sums up the concert-cum-cabaret act: unapologetically irreverent and often gross, but with an impish childishness that makes it quite endearing at the same time.

With songs like ‘Fix My Dick’ and ‘Tears from my Pussy’ (the latter – surprise surprise – being the number that gave way to the aforementioned projectile genitalia), Christeene’s schtick is far from subtle. But coupled with the performer’s Austin Texas pedigree, the between-the-songs banter is what makes the experience truly worthwhile.

As a stage presence she is both creepy and coddling. The mismatched pupils and blacked-out teeth are suggestive of an unsavory alleyway encounter, but Christeene milks this unsettling character to entertain rather than disturb.

Playing the dazed American visitor – one from the Deep South, no less – Christeene describes Edinburgh as being “like Disneyland… only with no creepy mouse comin’ up to ya and shit”.

“There be castles, fireworks and men in skirts playin’ music outta a sack… where the fuck am I?!”

But beyond the expletive-ridden drag-hillbilly facade there’s a genuinely romantic core to Christeene’s act, if you can believe it.

Accompanied by her two trusty dancers C-Baby and T-Gavel (refreshingly against-type, they’re not shy to let some flab hang out), that the Christeene Machine is all about losing your inhibitions should come as no surprise. But Christeene is also on a mission to liberate us from the deadening structures that crush our individuality and invade on our intimate private space.

Noting how ridiculous we’d all look tapping away at our smartphones – which we’re all “slaves” to – while also negotiating Edinburgh’s often-cobbled streets, Christeene implores the audience to safeguard that “little pony inside of you”, and to not let it be harvested by the relentless and numbing churn of the zeitgeist.

It’s not too dissimilar from the right-on live performance preaching from the likes of Patti Smith (whom I was also lucky enough to catch – on my adoptive home island, no less – earlier this year). Except that thankfully, Christeene does away Smith’s brand of post-hippie pseudo-spirituality in favour of an (un)healthy dose of Southern-Fried sleaze.

AUGUST 3 – 15:30 – Simon Callow in Juvenalia

Simon Callow in Juvenalia

A politically incorrect diatribe that grasps at topical relevance, but still boasts a melancholy core if you’re patient enough to look for it.

It is a testament to the healthy variety one can find at the Fringe (if, that is, you do in fact manage to machete your way through the stand-up comedy) that you can quite literally descend into an underworld to experience an act like Christeene on one day, and then head back up the next to watch a National Treasure (™) like Simon Callow channel an ancient Roman satirist.

That’s not to say that Juvenalia, a revival of Callow’s own 1970s take on Juvenal’s Satires, puts much stock in pomp and ceremony.

Working off translation by Peter Green (as adapted by Richard Quick), the show pitches the condensed and cherry-picked selection of Juvenal’s vitriolic rants against… well, pretty much anyone and anything… as nothing other than a stand-up comedy show (the show’s poster tagline spells it out for you: ‘Stand-Up Comedy as last delivered in AD 100’).

That particular gimmick may not have been the wisest. While taking the form of a sustained monologue, much in the same way as your run-of-the-mill stand-up comedy show would – Callow’s subject is not an easy pill to swallow, and the claims of Juvenal’s contemporary relevance are strained at best.

The fact is that the Roman satirist, while acerbically entertaining, remains a product of his time. That he is ‘democratic’ in his vitriol – virtually no class of citizen or ruler is spared from his acid tongue – cannot conceal the unpleasant prejudices that power his most sustained rants.

Juvenal’s misogyny is particularly hard to root for, and the production does nothing to contextualise it in a way that would make it palatable.

But though Juvenalia is sold to us as a stand-up comedy show that happens to be delivered from beyond the grave by a long-dead historical figure, it’s saving grace is in how it differs from other exponents of the genre it’s trying to ape.

By the end of the performance, you realize that, far from being a meandering monologue, Juvenalia allows for a change of pace.

Come the final act, we’re allowed a peek into a weary Juvenal; anger takes a back seat to reveal what’s at the core of his philosophy: a call for virtue in simplicity.

Though the show doesn’t do itself any favours by trying to compete with the myriad stand-up comedy events at the Fringe, the negative backlash it’s received feels slightly disproportionate.

Rather than a still-topical piece of mordant satire, Juvenal stands on its own as an intriguing character study – a sustained ‘unpeeling’ of a bitter man which at the end allows us to see the pain within.

Though Callow delivers his lines with gusto, judging by the marketing campaign and general pitch of the show, it seems as if he may be blind to the show’s true strength… even after all these years.


One thought on “High & Low | Edinburgh Fringe 2014 Reviews – Part 2

  1. Pingback: The World’s A Stage | Edinburgh Fringe 2014 Reviews – Part 3 | Soft Disturbances

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