Edinburgh Fringe Review: “She Wolf”
She Wolf review: August 2018
This performance is what you get when smart people get creative.
I visited the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time and was overwhelmed. Over a thousand performances in hundreds of venues, with little guidance on what quality performances were worth the time and funds? Aside from a few newspaper reviews, I was surprised that there wasn’t a central place for audience members to leave reviews of shows they have seen, with ratings. What happened to Web 2.0 and the power of the people? While I was in line for a magic show I was seeing, a couple told me to see any of the shows at the Voodoo Rooms, which they said were usually high quality and worth the investment.
And so, I ended up in the audience for Gillian English’s closing night performance of “She Wolf”, a one-woman performance about the life of Margaret of Anjou, and specifically what Shakespeare did to her life’s story in the service of literature.
Even stating that generic summary doesn’t give enough credit for what a creative, intelligent, and highly entertaining show this was. Ms. English knows her stuff and gives long memorized soliloquies as part of her performance that entirely by rote. The connection to the source material (Shakespeare’s writings) that inspired this production is made clear.
She starts off with audience interaction, asking what the audience’s favorite Shakespeare plays are, and then goes into the depth of the show, the difficult task, and life of Queen Margaret, what alliances she entered into, and what difficult choices she had to make. Truly a fascinating history, and a deep look into an interesting life, and she makes it humorous, given the sometimes-dark material.
And Gillian English definitely knows her stuff- asking the audience at what age Margaret would have been married and explaining to us about her marriage to King Henry VI and how he became a catatonic vegetable of sorts, leaving her to rule and be influenced by others.
Eventually, the message begins to sink in – over the years of a patriarchy, women in power are often doomed, to the detriment of society. And still to this day, we endure a patriarchy structure that doesn’t serve us well.
The performance has only one prop – a sole book on stage, that is titled “Shit Shakespeare Put In My Mouth.” Which is itself a sight gag, although one with a deeper meaning, as Gillian begins to go over all the literary license and changes to the real life of a real woman that Shakespeare made to make a story both more palatable and more commercial for its time. Shakespeare put Margaret into four of his plays, with various levels of historical accuracy. His takes on her (and errors about her) affects our view of Margaret and the War of the Roses based upon the fictional dialogues that Shakespeare made all those years ago.
Really, this is engagement with an audience at its best. Realization after realization comes from her quotes, a deep dive into history and a view of a historical figure that both is unjustly accused of a great number of things and did not act irrationally in the face of power as history blames her of, at all.
Seeing an actor perform with such a high level of skill with this material, and both take on history and modern society, be unapologetic about doing so, and lead the audience to all the right conclusions on their own through the material really is genius. The sexism you see in modern life has been around longer than we like to think.
Our audience roared with laughter and gave many knowing nods at the nature and the structure of this performance. This takes place over 500 years ago, but seems even more politically savvy and relevant in the arena of modern politics.
One-person performances are really difficult to make entertaining. They put a lot of the burden on the performer to keep audiences engaged. Gillian English really has a gift. You feel her passion for the subject, and her highly tuned sense of comedic timing. Her energetic performance makes you feel empathetic to the points of view here and enlightened to a part of literary history that you may have not given thought of or made connections with before.
Talking with Ms. English, she really has a gift for comedic concepts and timing, combined with a deep knowledge of her audience, and of course, the material. Even the names of her other shows and performances are hilariously funny, and she knows her history and literature. I cannot wait to see her again.
So, here’s my review, in a nutshell, to be posted wherever Edinburgh Fringe audience reviews should be posted. “–Five stars, super talented, highly intelligent and creative, and not to be missed wherever and whenever you can see her perform”. It truly was the best performance I saw at the 2018 Edinburgh Fringe by far.