Saturday, 26 August 2017

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: How to Suffer Better at Laughing Horse at The Newsroom

One of the most exciting features of the Edinburgh Fringe is the great selection of free shows offered by the Laughing Horse festival. Often in bars, pubs and makeshift venues, these events involve hundreds of performers, who work exclusively on tips and are, most reasonably, prepared to bully you into putting a fiver inside their hats. 

Because of all the mayhem generally undergoing in Edinburgh during the whole month of August, you might find yourself attending one of these open shows with just a handful of other punters, as was my case when I went to see Amanda Erin Miller's solo comedy How to Suffer Better. 

In these circumstances, an artist should be particularly aware of the different impact that their voice and stage presence can have on their – arguably sober but most realistically hungover – 1pm audience, and hopefully adjust their levels of enthusiasm accordingly.

I'm writing this because, after watching an hour of sporadic good jokes and frequent high-pitched squeals, I left the basement of The Newsroom bar with bleeding ears and a general sense of discomfort for the show devised and performed by Miller.

After finding her fiancĂ© in bed with her best friend, main character Celeste Schuman reads under the cap of a bottle a life-changing sentence: ‘We can't stop ourselves from suffering, but we can learn how to suffer better.’ Inspired to change her own approach to pain, she then decides to run a competition for the audience to decide who suffers better.

First on stage is the homeless Jelly Bin, who's affected by split personality and has conversations with himself, believing that he's talking to his psychiatrist. 

With a minor costume change, Amanda becomes Marla, a lonely maid longing for love whose character feels underdeveloped, if compared with the sprightly granny Edith Shlivovitz, who invents in an app for octogenarians called Sex-Ray. 

The story of the clown Armando, who gets trapped in a web of phone calls and unnecessarily convoluted bureaucracy, sounds painfully familiar. Whereas, despite the efforts to engage with the audience, the portrayal of an angry teen who threw a rock at Trump’s head, receives little response from the onlookers. 

The themes touched by Miller have huge comedic potential but are drowned by a self-indulgent and faffy interpretation. Some vignettes would benefit from a little polishing and some urge a total rethink, after which How to Suffer Better could become an engrossing rollercoaster of multiple roles.

Review by Marianna Meloni

Rating: ★★
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