EDINBURGH | GLASGOW | ABERDEEN | INVERNESS | DUNDEE | PERTH

Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl

at Summerhall

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Adept Australian circus performer divulges an intimate take on her struggles with alcoholism

Image of Notorious Strumpet and Dangerous Girl

A cosy cup of tea and a biscuit is offered by a woman with a brilliantly warm smile – Jess Love, our host for the evening. Settled in, she opens with a familiar phrase: “hello, I’m Jess, and I’m an alcoholic.”

What proceeds is a tragicomic confessional as Jess describes hitting rock bottom, punctured by interludes in which she illustrates the tilt-a-whirl chaos of being a drunk via acrobatics (yes, you’re definitely at the Fringe). Questioning how unlikely it was that she’d become an addict – she comes from a loving Tasmanian family, mostly teetotal, of physically fit teachers and charity workers – she discovers a great grandmother who was repeatedly imprisoned for drunken misbehaviour, the titular “notorious strumpet and dangerous girl”. She marvels at her ancestor’s moxie while wondering if bad blood is the cause of her dependence on the sauce. 

Jess Love is amiable company, with an openness and easy charisma. Her circus skills are accomplished: her hula hoop routine, wrangling ten different hoops, is a marvel. Equally deft is her prowess as a prat-faller. Her approximation of a drunk on a trapeze leaves you genuinely uneasy, even though you know she hasn’t touched a drop.

Unfortunately, the disparate strands of the show, from her family history, to her worst night out, to a game of “alcoholic bingo” that long outlives its (slight) welcome, never really cohere, leaving you with a show in search of a narrative. Her candour is moving, and it is likely that those who have similarly struggled with substance abuse will find much to relate to here. But her comedic monologues lack the requisite humour, and there’s a faint sense of a show that’s more designed to provide catharsis for the performer than entertainment for the audience.

Jess Love is a talented performer with a touching earnestness, but here is a show in search of a dramaturg.