Thursday, August 3, 2017

Love on the Fringe

Roll up, roll up - Edinburgh's Festival Fringe starts this week and there's definitely something in the air...

Last year, I took part in the Festival for the first time as part of the Cabaret of Dangerous Ideas. The cabaret (or CoDI, for short) is a series of shows where researchers, academics, and students present a dangerous idea from their research. This year, I'm reprising last year's dangerous idea - that we should take romance seriously.

I set out the reasoning behind my statement in a blog post from last year, and you can come along to the show to talk more about this in person if you like - the show's on Sunday 20 August, 8.20-9.20pm.

What I want to do in this post is highlight just how many shows at this year's festival have taken love and romance as their theme. So, for all you romance aficionados out there, here’s a round-up of some of the #loveonthefringe this year.

Academic Love

I’ll start with my show, The Romance Novel as High Art?, because it relates to many of themes in other shows. Arguing that romance novels deserve more respect than they get, I’ll introduce the audience to trends and developments in romance writing (heroes, heroines, settings, sex) and we’ll come up with an outline for our own romance novel (whether it’s good enough to be submitted to Mills & Boon is a different question). It should be a lot of fun, but I’m hoping that the audience will learn something too – and everyone will get a free book to take away with them!

Another academic show related to romance is Terry Huang’s show, Fifty Shades of Green. Terry works at the Royal Botanic Gardens and is promising to share with the audience the “sights and smells of courtship and consummation in the botanical world”. Featuring an exclusive reading from a previously undiscovered early draft* of Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James, in which she was inspired by the sex lives of plants, I don’t think you’ll ever look at that rose bush the same way again.

*For legal reasons I should state that this is possibly a device created for the show. But then it might not be…

Modern Romance

Love can be modern, too. Beam, showing at Zoo Southside, is a ‘multisensory romance’, according to creators Heather Morgan and Lucy Haighton. Describing their show as “one of Granny's stories” – “a true story of 10 pairs of knickers, a leap, a waft of lavender, a blue suit, and true love” – Morgan and Haighton ask: “true love? Does that even exist anymore?” The show seems to be taking a look at modern love (as Aziz Ansari might put it) from the perspective of a real-life granny. Apparently, “just hearing how Granny tries to describe Tinder is worth the price of admission alone” ( It’s bound to raise questions of the nature of modern love, our cultural and social ideas about monogamy, fidelity, marriage, and dating.

Malaprop Theatre’s show at Summerhall, Love+, delves into a different aspect of modern love – human/robot relationships. They describe their show thusly:

"What happens to romance when there's a machine who cooks for you, cleans for you, never forgets your birthday or how you like your tea, tells you you're beautiful, holds you when you're crying, and still makes you cum? Love+ is a one-woman two-hander about the inevitability of human/robot relationships. It’s about loving, being loved, being human and whether those things are intertwined. It’s not about whether or not you can love machines, because we all already do. It’s about what it’ll be like when they love us back."

Their show immediately makes me think of Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It (or Bodies of Glass) which deals with the physicality (in a very sexual way) of a cyborg and their relationship with a human woman. It’s an amazing book, and I’m sure this show will prompt all kinds of thinking about humanity and its connection (perhaps not an exclusive one) with love.

Online dating and role-play sex are the theme of Campfire Stories Theatre Company’s show, The Girl Who Loved Stalin. Billed as “a rough guide to romancing, wining, dining and wooing a communist
dictator – whether they’re the real thing or a curly-haired soldier with a self-esteem problem in a cheap costume”, the show may likely offer some lessons from history – that of Soviet Russia, at least – of relevance for modern romantics. Although, it very well might not.

There's also Illuminate Productions' City Love - "the story of two city workers juggling rent and bills until a chance meeting on the Number 12 night bus transforms their mundane lives into an epic love story". It's apparently "a funny and unflinching look at how trivial insecurities can send us crashing into self-destruction". So modern, and perhaps unsettling (as love can sometimes be).

Love’s a Song and Dance

Everyone loves a cabaret, right? If musical entertainment sounds right up your street, you might want to check out Adriano Cappelletta’s show, Adriano Cappelletta: This Boy's in Love, billed as “the world's first one-man gay rom-com cabaret”. The show promises to contain “hilarious and heartfelt songs”, “physical comedy and candid storytelling” to describe “one man's final shot at finding love”. Mainstream romance in the West (I’m talking romance novels, Hollywood romantic comedies, and TV shows) has been (rightly) criticised for being heteronormative (as well as overwhelmingly white). It’s nice to see a show that looks at romance from a non-hetero perspective.

So do check out some of these shows if you're in Edinburgh this month - it would be great to see you at my show too. Follow #loveonthefringe on Twitter, and if you've got any love-related shows I've missed let me know in the comments!

Signing off with lots of love...

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