Tychy has so far got through the first ten days of the Fringe without seeing a single one-man, or woman, show. I have been hitherto remorseless in my hatred of this phenomenon; in fact my aspiration, as a Fringe critic, is to outlive the solo show completely. At some point in my lifetime, I hope to attend the last ever solo show at the Fringe and to take part in the last ever round of applause. After supplying years of stinging criticism of solo shows, I feel that there are definitely less of them now. But as with a pugnacious weed, they are very difficult to eradicate. I hate these shows so much because they usually mangle promising plays and leave a dysfunctional mess behind; because they defraud audiences, pawning off an inferior substitute for theatre upon them; because they are mean and cheap; because they represent an intrinsically frustrated genre which is never aesthetically tidy.
And I hate Bettine Mackenzie’s “Clairvoyant” in particular because it is actually quite good. If they are allowed to make solo shows like this, the genre is more likely to retain a footing in its death struggle. It will still look like the solo show has some life in it yet. How infuriating!
Of course, I did not see “Clairvoyant” by design. I had a sudden window in my Fringe schedule and nothing else was available.
“Clairvoyant” is currently established at C Nova. Mackenzie plays a TV talent show contestant who is unfortunately channelling messages from the dead as soon as she starts work on Madonna’s Like a Prayer. It is unclear whether she is reciting these messages before Cowell et al or whether they are echoing in some mental chamber whilst she stutters away on stage. This outlandish theatrical device so far confirms my prejudices about the solo show. It always has to do its little dance on the spot between scenes and timeframes, and mediumship is this show’s chosen means of sandwiching several different characters into a single person.
Yet “Clairvoyant” still works, ultimately due to the sheer breadth of performances in the show. In fact, Mackenzie is so smooth that I was unable to place which accent was really hers. I reckon that it was probably that of the Russian migrant who is campaigning for leave to remain. Yes, Mackenzie must be Russian.
So “Clairvoyant” submits a handsome actor’s portfolio, a good display of theatrical power. The writing is always careful to remain interesting and never to lapse into soap opera ordinariness. I was nonetheless disconcerted by the superiority with which Mackenzie regards her characters. They each want to be something – a pop star, a magician, a community leader, or a British resident – but they invariably lack the wherewithal to achieve this. They are always too small to inhabit their ambitions. They end up resembling dolls which Mackenzie is mercilessly thrashing and throwing about the nursery.
But such is my bias towards solo shows that “Clairvoyant” gets off pretty lightly.