Adelaide Fringe: Louise Reay, Eraserhead

In which I see Louise Reay’s Eraserhead at Tuxedo Cat’s Broadcast Bar

I am going to interrupt my chronological narrative of shows I have seen at the fringe to tell you about the most unique show I am likely to see. Monday is one night when I can sneak in an unexpected show or two. There isn’t much fringe on on Monday nights (again, read it twice and it will make sense I promise), but I haven’t been to anything at Tuxedo Cat’s Broadcast Bar yet and they do indeed run their programme on Mondays. So yay. I know this is going to sound very, ‘Yeah, nah, I liked their early stuff,’ but thank goodness for the Tuxedo Cat. The large fringe hubs like The Garden of Unearthly Delights and Gluttony are brilliant fun, and they have added a dynamism to the fringe and opened it up to audiences that might not otherwise have existed. But the danger is that their emphasis on carnivale and big-name stand-ups can suck the life from other smaller, quieter events and shows. Through the many evolutions of Tuxedo Cat (and it does sound a little like a Pokemon so perhaps I should call that ‘evolves’ instead of ‘evolutions’) Cass Tombs and Bryan Lynagh have been fighting the good fight to provide a venue that is more than a little bit left of centre. I’m not sure about the idea of ‘real fringe’, but definitely we need a range of different spaces and venues that allow audiences and artists of all types and flavours to see and be seen.

So now I’ve got that off my chest, by happy happenstance, the Tuxedo Cat Monday lineup included a show that I especially wanted to see, Louise Reay’s Eraserhead. The few comedians/artists facey groups that I’m part of have all had at least one post talking about Louise Reay, a comedian from England who is being sued by her (ex)partner for defamation. This goes far beyond the midnight tangles I’ve got myself into wondering about whether I should or should not say this or that about my mother, will people get the wrong idea, will they think I’m making fun when really I’m trying to demonstrate my love? Mine have been usual worries any one who writes any kind of memoir struggles with from time to time.

Being sued for defamation takes things to a whole new level. I can’t comment much on the whys or wherefores because, as explained in the many articles around the place such as this one the comments for which she is being sued weren’t in the show for very long. But I will say, as have many other comedians and artists (such as this one), I find its potential precedent a truly troubling one. And speaking feministically, I would also point to the issues of control. And just so you know where I stand (in case I need to spell it out), I will certainly be contributing to her crowdfunding fund to help pay for legal costs.

As to the show? Under the advice of lawyers, the original show has been scrapped and this has been written and put together in a matter of days and that does show. It is not seamless, and it is clear that she is sometimes still finding her timing. She holds a script in her hand for much of the time, reads directly from it for some of the time. But where that is often an unforgivable weakness, I saw that as a true strength. Sometimes ‘the show must go on’ is more than a simple cliche, it is a call to arms. A celebration of solidarity.

There are moments of palpable vulnerability and rawness that give us a glimpse of how deeply she feels the impact of being sued and the subsequent silencing of her work. We meet her mother through pre-recorded skype calls and her own sense of humour and her love for her daughter shine through. I was the oldest person in the audience by some way, and the closest in age and experience to her mother. Seeing the calls with her mother in combination with the aforementioned vulnerability it was all I could do last night to stop myself stalking Reay’s mother and sending her a note to say, ‘It’s okay, we’ll look after her while she’s over here, she’ll be okay.’

Reay is a truly unique performer, willing to take risks and to push her art. She has previously performed shows for English audiences in Chinese and mime as demonstration of the truth that communication is only seven percent words (and I was pretty pleased to find that my own rather basic and rusty Chinese allowed me to understand nearly all of the dating scene). She isn’t only unique, she is talented too. She writes beautifully, her delivery is disarmingly precise, and she has an oddly unassuming but charismatic presence on the stage. I have no doubt that she will one day soon be filling the tents down at The Garden of Unearthly Delights and I for one will be happy to buy a ticket in advance so that I can skip the huge queue to get into the GOUD.

In the meantime you should go and see this show, not only because it needs to be seen, but because you won’t see anything else quite like it this fringe.