In the decrepit splendour of a chaotic old sideshow known as Riley’s Odditorium, we meet Riley’s family of freaks - Tiny, the World’s Fattest Man, Countess Marketa the armless bearded lady, Lillie and Millie the beautiful joined-at-the-hip Siamese twins, George/Georgina the hermaphrodite and Serena the ‘Mermaid’.
But this troupe of survivors living on society’s edge have gone from being ‘marvels to aberrations’ and are no longer pulling the crowds. How can Tiny stay ‘stunningly’ or ‘gloriously’ fat when rations are reduced all round? The relentless optimistic Riley has a plan so that his family survives in a politically correct world. He has to shift their mindsets, open them to new possibilities, give them the capacity to tell a new story and literally transform them through the power of hope and other means. He has to make them futureproof.
Beauty sells. So-called normality sells. But there is a price to be paid for becoming ‘normal’ and an ugliness inside is seen at the family’s willingness to marginalise Serena who, within the gradations of the code of freakery, is merely a novelty act and therefore not ‘real’. As Riley fails to recognise when they’re at the end of the line, and tries to turn things on their head, change, death and destruction abound.
It would be impossible to single out anyone in this cast as they were all brilliant. The costumes and set were fabulous and the fat man suit just incredible! There is a marvellous dream sequence with beautiful long silver threads appearing as a curtain and the performance looking like an old flickering 8mm home movie, which was quite magical even though the dream in question was not a happy one. The unity of twins and indeed the family’s dynamics was clear in the incredibly moving waltz sequence.
In a time where obesity abounds yet nobody uses that particular F word it is refreshing that the play’s language is unhampered by political correctness, as is fitting for the subject matter of the play. This could stand as metaphor for society today in that couching things in euphemisms does not mask their existence. This play looks head on at human disfigurement and frailties, whether mental or physical and the paradox that is fitting in while being one’s self. We’re all in our own Odditorium, if we’re honest.
To the sound of the song Brass in Pocket, George /Georgina, still neither fish nor fowl, leaves stage ‘to be her own caller’ dressed in clothes that are both male and female and looking normal – whatever that is. No wonder the ambiguous sexual image has been used as the Traverse’s posters this year.
In this reviewer’s book, there are not enough stars for this utterly draw-you-in drama showing the capacities of the human spirit in glorious theatrical terms so step right up and be amazed at this very human circus.
Show times: 07 -28 August, times vary
Sunday –Thursday £17 (£12 concessions / £6 unemployed)
Friday – Saturday £19(£13 concessions)