WINFAMY

Fri 17th – Sun 26th August 2012

reviews

Rachel Cunliffe

at 01:29 on 20th Aug 2012

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To call ‘Winfamy’ a sketch-show would be accurate, but underplays the show’s most unique and original feature. Best described as a ‘mockumentary’, it consists of a series of confessional interviews, in which characters earnestly describe to a conspicuous video camera what makes their lives special. It’s hard to go into more detail without giving too much away (which is a problem, alas, with their flyer), but hammers feature, as do spies, kidneys, and, most notably, pigeons.

The pigeons sketch is perhaps the best example of what this show is trying to achieve. A nervous and socially awkward Neal talks about various birds, then describes how important it is that his life mean something, hence his ‘experiment’. Only at the end does it become apparent that this experiment is actually an attempt to breed humans that can fly, which explains his intimate relations with his pet pigeons. (Note: this is not a spoiler, as it appears on the flyer – a shame as the punch-line is brilliant.) Shocking and grotesque? Yes, but Joe Mercier plays Neil with such subtlety and sincerity that makes it impossible not to sympathise with his endeavor, bestiality and all.

Let me be clear, this show is dark, and the dénouements of the interviews vary from the whimsical to the downright psychopathic. The scenarios are all utterly outrageous, but the acting is so convincing that the characters really do seem genuine, perhaps only half a step more eccentric than people we may actually know. (Grace Gummer as an old lady and Alastair Foylan as an enthusiastic spy are particularly excellent.) This makes the psychological effect when something truly repulsive is revealed almost nauseating, as the audience realise too late what they have really been laughing about. And laugh they do, because Philipo Carter Lindsey’s script is hilarious – hilarious, but also subtle. The audience is made to guess where each sketch is headed, and there are very few moments when the punch-line is predictable or obvious.

Comic though it certainly is, this production also has a serious side, inviting the audience to consider the lengths people will go to in order to achieve fame, success, or money. The atmosphere of this small, parlor-like venue is so intimate that being party to these horrifying confessions feels vaguely voyeuristic, almost like an intrusion. Perhaps that is why I left feeling slightly sickened, aware both that these fictional characters are not too far from reality, and that our fascination with people’s private lives is what has enabled the concept of ‘Winfamy’ to exist at all.

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Imogen O'Sullivan

at 01:56 on 20th Aug 2012

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The title concept outlines itself on the flyer as ‘the aim to obtain notoriety by any available means’. Unfortunately, WINFAMY suffers from its own attempt at obtaining notoriety, destroying the punchline of one of its best character sketches by using a special avian passion as a marketing selling point.

Styling this piece as a ‘mockumentary’ is a real feather in the cap of Phillip Carter Lindsey. Interesting and original, the combination of recordings and confessional interviews really engages with an audience leaving them with a profound feeling that they have intruded upon the actors, who, as a whole are remarkably impressive. Martin Willis in the opening sketch is an actor not afraid of silence; unusual in such a swift-paced show. Whilst the meaning of this particular skit was comparatively opaque, he still managed to exhort peals of laughter from a receptive audience who were constantly egging him on. Joe Mercier’s distinctive pigeon-fancier is surprisingly sweet and appealing, managing to come across as the sanest of the bunch, and is equally sympathetic as a hen-pecked husband whose wife’s passive aggression loses its pre-modifier. Alastair Foylan is dedicated and convincing as a would-be spy, throwing himself wholeheartedly into physical exertions.

A number of these stories plumb darker depths than any audience member would expect. Billed as a black comedy, at times this is more black than comedy; disturbing tales of mental disorder that wouldn’t seem out of place in conversation with Louis Theroux. Eagle-eyed audience members will be able to identify Grace Gummer as the oblivious widow hidden beneath a shawl in the bonkers, poignant and sad final sketch. Gummer excels in both this role and her previous – as an organ-stealing mother alongside the equally convincing Willis – but the impressive strength of her performances, and those of the cast as a whole, lies in achieving the impossible in making these horrific spectacles of humanity strangely familiar to us all. An old woman’s loneliness takes on a whole new, but alarmingly understandable, tone when her husband loses his head in an accident but she decides to continue their relationship regardless. This tragedy of a love threatening to be lost and so held on to at all costs is moving and human, as are the best of these characters.

Though this piece risks being pigeon-holed merely as an exploration of fame and the lengths individuals will go to in order to achieve it, it is most powerful as a lesson about the public whose desire it is to create celebrity. A sickening feeling spreads through your stomach as you realise how gripping and entertaining you have found these twisted stories of lunacy and depravity and you wonder if this was Carter Lindsey’s intention all along. Of course his intention could simply have been to have a right lark, which he achieves equally well. With its location so far out of town, WINFAMY may duck under the radar of most Fringe-goers, but I would highly recommend the trek across the water. Some of the plot twists are a bit hard to swallow, so this is not a show for the faint-hearted or the sensitive of stomach, but if, like Felicity Paterson’s fame-hungry record-chaser, WINFAMY’s aim was to ‘be remembered for something’, I will always remember it as bizarre and brilliant.

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