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Strangely unforgettable … In the Gut.
Strangely unforgettable … In the Gut. Photograph: Rebecca Lupton
Strangely unforgettable … In the Gut. Photograph: Rebecca Lupton

Brighton fringe review – giant sperm, rave days and camp cruelty

The Warren, Brighton
From nappy challenges to a grotesque clown show about carehomes, this year’s theatre festival is full of surprises

The two performers rush behind the vulva-esque velvet curtains, leaving the stage empty. My friend leans in and whispers: “Let’s run.” We miss our chance and 30 seconds later there’s someone dressed as a giant sperm splayed across my lap.

The struggles of parenthood and the ways we fail our families inform several shows at this year’s Brighton fringe, a festival guaranteed to uncover both hidden treasures and plays you wish had stayed hidden.

Les Femmes Ridicules’ In the Gut is one of this year’s strange unforgettables. Combining the miracles of baking and birth in a satire of parenting advice, it begins feverishly and gets even less logical: there’s masturbating, egg whites, nappy challenges and nipple sprays. Margot Courtemanche and Susanna Amato are hosts of a kitchen on fire, brandishing whipped cream as if it’s dramaturgical glue. They admirably attempt to use humour to break taboos but spend more time laughing at themselves than we do.

From conception to cradle: in Put the Book Down’s two-hander Insolence, young parents are thrown into roles of uncomfortable responsibility. Aoife Smyth’s uneasy Claire sees her child as a “parasite”, while Bertie Taylor-Smith’s eager Aaron describes his kids as “my vital organs”. She’s direct, he’s more reserved. Together, they unravel a story of love and duty, trading monologues until their worlds collide. It feels like an oversight that while Claire actively tells us she doesn’t want a child the possibility of abortion is never mentioned, but Doug Dean’s script is smartly cyclical with a satisfyingly daring twist.

From the Cradle to the Bin by A Ship of Fools.
From the Cradle to the Bin by A Ship of Fools. Photograph: Bryan Winstanley

Even if you’re fully grown, you can fear being a grown-up. HoneyBee asks at what point you’re meant to have your life together. Caked in glitter and bathed in neon, 27-year-old Kate tugs us through a drugged-up night at a music festival in writer and performer Eleanor Dillon-Reams’ bright debut. At once warm, funny and honest, Dillon-Reams lulls us into an immediate friendship.

Her night nosedives. Glitter is scrubbed off and skin left raw. The details of the highs are electric – Kate’s body fizzing on drink, drugs and dance – while the story’s lows feel skimmed from soap. As a tale about middle-class friends getting high at a festival, it’s hardly the sharpest social commentary, but Dillon-Reams is kind and careful in her storytelling, and so we dress up with her, laugh with her and worry when it all goes wrong. She may be performing by herself, but when she dances, she’s not alone.

Fast forward a few generations to a different kind of loneliness. From the Cradle to the Bin is A Ship of Fools’ grotesque clowning commentary on how we treat our older people.

At Happy Valley Care Home, where “we care so you don’t have to”, everything is coated in a layer of grease and sleaze, and residents are housed in rancid wheelie bins. Charles Shetcliffe’s ever-so-grateful Mr Whitey is subjected to a kind of anarchic singsong torture, spoon-fed hairy porridge, exploited and ignored by Mark Winstanley’s camp carer and Evie Fehilly’s draconian care home director. They lace every giggle with guilt; it’s all hideous and heartbreaking, but you can’t stop laughing. The ending veers slightly off track, but this show is a gem. Painfully funny, stupidly sad, it’ll make you want to call your mum.

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