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Oxford Fringe 2015

The Oxford Fringe is an accessible arts festival that takes place in venues around the city. With stand-up comedy, theatre, puppetry, poetry, live music, magic, improv and family shows, it's a celebration of live arts that anyone can take part in. This year the festival takes place between 22nd May and the 7th June 2015.

June 7, 2015

Andrew Watts - Feminism for Chaps, The Old Fire Station, Fri 5th June

Standing faux-nervously in a suit and tie at the front of a harshly lit studio, Watts begins at the beginning. Brandishing a notebook, he reads out parts of a scathing review of a previous show in which the reviewer accuses him of saying that women can be placated by a simple question about accessories. Watts is bitter; he is married to a feminist Guardian journalist after all. We’re five minutes into the show and despite Watts’ assurance that his gig really is for the chaps, and that he has no intention of trying to teach women about being women and about feminism, I am feeling dubious. ‘Here’s a man, his ego bruised, trying to reassure everyone that he really is into equality and all that’, I thought.

I could not have been more wrong. Over the 50 minutes the followed, Watts provides a cleverly constructed and amazingly witty crash course in feminism, from a brief history, to a man’s role in childcare, to an explanation of mansplaining. There’s even a bell hooks reference thrown in the mix. Between care duties and cricket analogies, Watts ensures that everyone is engaged and, importantly, that everyone is laughing.

Watts' humour arises mainly from the intelligence of his set-ups. He may be the only comedian to combine a feminist wave metaphor, with the actual theory of waves, in the context of a feminist sex party, in order to explain why we must rally behind a feminism that we believe in so that feminism is not cancelled out. The pacing is deliberately fast so that you’ve barely had time to cast your mind way back to GCSE Physics before Watts has slipped in the important message, delivered the punch line and moved on. Although this delivery style suits his awkward ex-Oxonian vibe, and stops the show becoming a lecture, I can’t help thinking that one more breath between jokes could have pulled in some more laughs. I love a good pun and this show is full of them. I especially like scribbling them down to whip back out in reviews, but there was certainly no time for that in this whirlwind of a show. You'll just have to go and hear them for yourself.

Perhaps the Oxford audience at the Old Fire Station is a relatively easy target for Watts’ message. He acknowledges this and tells us a story about adapting Feminism for Chaps for a comedy night in a strip club. This story is challenging, self-reflective and outrageously funny. And this is really what sums up Andrew Watts and Feminism for Chaps. Whatever position you're starting from, you'll leave feeling challenged, charmed and chortled-out.

May 24, 2015

Pond Wife, Oxford Fringe, The Old Fire Station, Friday 22nd May 2015

The songs we listen to in our teenage years shape our lives, influencing our formative years and when older, take us back to our salad days and memories of our youth. This is one of the central premises of Pond Wife, a comedy show written and presented by Holly Norrington and Teddy Lamb.

Through the medium of 90s pop songs they explore some of the central themes of teenage angst such as family, ambition and isolation. From when the performance opens to the strains of Blondie's 'The Tide Is High' and the performers discuss the first album they purchased, the audience are drawn into the familiar yet fantasy world created.

The performance is very loosely based on The Little Mermaid and Holly gives a subtle and nuanced performance as the eponymous heroine, effectively exploring teenage growing pains and aspiring to maturity and adulthood and in particular her place as a woman (there are frequent references to the ocean's surface as a “glass ceiling”). Holly also joyously joins in the simple and, at times hilarious, staging. By contrast, Ted's supporting performance as the rest of the cast and crew is exuberant and bombastic, with tones of an ebullient ring-master. He particularly shines towards the end of the piece with his portrayal of pop star “Lucky” - out-shining Britney.

The music referenced and played throughout the performance ranges from the Spice Girls, through S-Club Seven, Christine Aguillera, Katy Melua, Nickelback, So Solid Crew and Evanescence – to name a few – and as well as underpinning the show it also underlines, undermines and determines the action. The sound technician gave a sterling performance cuing the music, which is integral to the piece and used not only in the background but referenced, quoted and questioned in the script. This provokes for the audience a range of emotions: nostalgia, fear, trepidation, joy and triumph and this gamut of experiences and responses all comes together in the interpretation of the final song, “This is my perfect moment”.

However, the undoubted star of the piece is the wheeled bath used as the main prop during the performance. Swathed in a shower curtain, the bath is used as a shadow puppet theatre and with a glittery aquamarine backdrop it represents the deep blue sea. Throughout the performance it is whirled and swirled around the stage. Characters climb in and are transformed; monologue and dialogue are performed in and around the bath and during the performance the tub becomes the source of transformation on many levels in the play. It is also central to the humour of the piece.

Although this show is short and sweet in a limited amount of space and time, the piece manages to provoke a wide-range of emotions, from teenage angst through the exasperations of youth to adult fears and aspirations. But throughout, the performance is underpinned by great humour and insight to which the audience can clearly relate. Although not a child of the 90s I could connect to the central themes being explored and I recognised many of the pop tunes referenced, deconstructed and poked fun at. If you want to spend a pleasant and amusing hour exploring the follies of youth, pop culture and the music of the 90s, there is a repeat performance of Pond Wife on Saturday 6th June at 4.50pm. And don't forget this is a once in a lifetime experience to see a performing bath.

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