Although an audience of two (or less!) isn’t unheard of at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, it is not usually something that is desired. For Ryan Good’s ménage, however, two is a full house.
The action for Good’s new play takes place in a private Edinburgh flat, a few minutes walk from the Underbelly box office. Told by a solitary actress, it unfolds in a fairly small, perfectly ordinary bedroom. Shown in, one is given a cup of tea and invited to sit, and so begins a friendly and candid chat with a sex worker, whose identity we may never really know.
It is actually less of a chat and more of a monologue, although there are a few sociable questions thrown in now and then. It ends abruptly, cut short by an interruption, and we are left to let ourselves out. It’s as if we have just viewed a short fragment from the middle of a documentary: we will never know the ending.
The idea behind this production appears to be very simple, but in fact, everything about it is clever and carefully crafted. Both audience and actress are putting themselves in a very vulnerable situation, but this is handled in an exemplary manner, with the audience made just comfortable enough to allow them room to engage, while enough distance is maintained to sustain the theatre.
The bedroom looks deceptively ordinary too, but viewed more carefully, shows itself to be a precisely designed set, with many little details that reveal small yet important things about the sex worker’s life.
There are also small scene changes—the actress moves, from her dressing table to the wardrobe, a light goes at one point, something is moved at another—and every so often the play slides subtly from its hyper-realistic point of view to something more theatrical. An interview with real sex workers is played, for instance, the narrative thread is briefly interrupted, or a pause is extended slightly.
It is such a fleeting visit, yet this is an experience that lingers in the mind for long afterwards. Although masquerading as something far more modest, the production has enormous subtly: it is theatre in microcosm. There is a team of actors who play the sex worker. This time it was the turn of Josie Beth Davies, who was simply brilliant, giving her audience of two something really extraordinary and personal.
Although ménage is bound to take its audience out of their comfort zone, it is also one of the most unique experiences to be had at this year’s Fringe. Be brave!