Tricky Second Album at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: Unreviewable
Take a deep breath in.
Now, breathe out.
Here it is: the unreviewable show. And yet… here’s the review.
23:05. Voices behind me joke that the front row in Tricky Second Album is ‘not safe’. I know very little about the show, other than the brief Twitter search I did five minutes before it started: loud, surreal, bizarre. As we wait for the piece to start, the title jitters manically around a screen in front of us whilst hellish noise music (think Merzbow) plays at alarming volume from overhead speakers. I think this might be what hell is like.
At some point a naked, heavily pregnant woman wearing sunglasses, who I think is maybe called Kat, walks back and forth across the stage, each time writing another word of the title across her stomach. After the final word is completed, she appears from a curtain directly in front of the audience, picks up the mic, puts it down and walks off. Then, two other women – one named Dora and one named Nora (I think) appear, wearing full-body waterproofs and brandishing waterguns. There’s lots of screaming and shouting, vaguely Slavic dance music, and we all get soaked.
Apparently this show used to be a lot louder, but the Pleasance have decided to curtail the volume in the room for our safety – I’m also not sure if that’s true or not. Two mornings later, I’m talking to the PR for the show – he tells me that last night the Pleasance decided to cancel the performance and have threatened to do it again if the cast continue to misbehave. That much is true, although somehow I doubt this show will ever conform – it’s fucking fearless.
In 1994, the KLF burned one million pounds on Jura – that is what this show is about. 10 minutes later, Nora or Dora has climbed on to me and is thrusting her chest in my face whilst the other Nora or Dora screams ‘NAKED BOOBS’ and Kat dances around. It’s like half eleven and all this is very fucking funny, I promise. It’s also kind of beautiful, and defiant and creative and maybe even a little ecstatic. ‘This is our third show and our debut album’, we are told – I’m not really sure what that means in this context.
A confession: I said the show was about the KLF burning a bunch of money, but that was a white lie. Tricky Second Album is really an all-round fuck-you to the Fringe. The costs, the noise regulations, the bureaucracy that threatens to have your creative show pulled for misbehaving.
At several points, Kat appears to become very suddenly ill as a result of her pregnancy, and her compatriots seem genuinely concerned for her safety, although she passes at least one of the events off as a fake-out. It’s not clear whether this is genuine or not (she really is pregnant, though). If it is, this is one of the bravest performances at the festival. There is lots more noise, a lot more screaming, more anarchy than you can shake a manifesto at, and more laughter in the room than at 90% of other productions at the Fringe. I’m also kind of concerned for my safety, but in a good way. Nora and Dora keep collapsing onto the floor, either on purpose or skidding on the increasing amount of miscellaneous liquid – beer, water, lighter fluid? – that’s just sloshing about the space. It’s really great, I promise.
But then, just as you’ve pigeonholed Tricky Second Album as ‘loud, vaguely nightmarish late-night madness’, it becomes something altogether more serious and undefinable. The performers are super drunk, exhausted and highly-strung; it’s nearing midnight now and I could probably say the same of most of the audience. There are serious conversations about audience response, pressure, and the realities of trying to make art. All this feels so genuine and spontaneous you’d swear it was a one-off, but this show is happening every night – is it the same every night?
In an immaculate coup de grace that’s never explicitly stated but hangs in the air long after the performance has ended, we come to realise what has actually transpired over the last hour: In Bed With My Brother has just burned all the profits of the show. The show – if it’s a show – is about that very act, and yet is the act itself.
In putting on a piece in the Pleasance – one of the largest venues at the world’s largest arts festival (and that’s key) – there’s no ticket profit to burn because the ticket profit has, effectively, already gone up in smoke on commission, fees, travel, amenities and a thousand other expenses that place a fiscal stranglehold on the arts. What is the difference between that, and chucking five hundred and sixty quid into a plastic bin before tossing in a lighter? What is the motivational difference between this show and the KLF burning one million pounds? And what separates this show from the one next door – is the fact Tricky Second Album is about itself the reason why it counts as burning money, and more straightforward comedy does not? Is performing in order to demonstrate the reality of performance in a late-capitalist society of less cultural worth than performing in order to elicit laughter? WHAT THE FUCK IS MONEY AND WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BURN IT?
By the time In Bed With My Brother have left the stage in a state of emotional turmoil, leaving the audience feeling as if they’ve just been battered with a brick, Tricky Second Album has transcended the very idea of a Fringe show and has become an argument – no, a scream – against the way in which creative expression has become commodified and commercialised to the point of bankrupting the expressor. It’s become, then, a cry out against the Fringe from within one of the biggest venues on the Fringe. Or at least, I think that’s what it might be – it could just be an absurdist comedy(?) or, for that matter, a call for violent revolution. Should we burn the Pleasance Dome down?
I don’t know how much of this is scripted, and how much of it is improvised – if any of it is scripted or improvised. I don’t know how much of this is true, and how much of it is false – if any of it is true, or any of it is false. I don’t know whether, if I was to turn up to this show – if it’s a show – again tomorrow, everything would be the same or whether it would be completely different. But most importantly, I don’t know if any of those preceding questions matter. All I know is that the show happened as it happened on the night I saw it, and it was fucking dynamite.
Usually, when I give a show five stars – which I’m about to do – it makes me happy. It makes me happy because I know that, out there in the rain and the wind and the mobs of confused tourists somebody is going to get a Twitter notification telling them that their show is at the highest level of what a show can be. And whether I’m the only one saying that, or I’m just a voice in a crowd of admiration, I know that that notification will make someone very happy too. But with this show I don’t necessarily think that’s the case. I don’t know if this five-star review is going to make In Bed With My Brother happy because I don’t think it’s important – not in some cosmic sort of way, because of course it isn’t, but in the way that I could’ve given this one star and it wouldn’t have mattered either.
The show – if it’s a show – is not something that is necessarily ‘good’ or ‘bad’; it just ‘is’. It’s an act, and you can react towards an act any way you like – you can react to two men burning one million quid any way you like – but a score out of five wouldn’t exactly be the most appropriate reaction, because it would be a non-sequitur. Reviewing Tricky Second Album, then, is surely also a non-sequitur?
Fuck it, I don’t know.
I really don’t know.