5-30 Aug (not 17)
2050 (2220) @ C aquila, Johnston Terrace
Review by Danielle Farrow.
The five courtesans of this play stem from different eras and cultures and are each clever in their own varying ways. Seductive as this production is, it does not provide the titillation some seeking tickets might be after, but is rather a densely-written, witty play that explores relationships between men and women along with roles and freedom in society.
The staging is minimal in appearance, and the more an actress wears, the less convincing the costume, but the writing and performances create an engaging world full of humour, intelligence and competition. Venus – Claire-Monique Martin starting proceedings with an apt rendition of Purcell’s ‘She Loves and She Confesses Too’ – has re-fleshed these five tantalising creatures of the bedroom (and elsewhere) to entertain and explore.
Nell Gwynn and T’zu-Hsi, the Dragon Lady, are very well characterised in both writing (by director Sarah Blake) and acting. Ava Lynn Koh brings a powerful physicality and energy to the role of the concubine who became Empress, and Georgina Panton embodies Charles II’s famous mistress with verve, great comic timing and panache. Poet Veronica Franco is presented quite intriguingly, but she is not particularly marked out in her speech by the writing, which one would expect given her particular talent had much to do with her intelligence and way with words. Also, while actress Emma Kate Baxter has a fine stage presence and is very clear, she could benefit from a little more subtlety and variation in her manner. ‘Skittles’ (Victorian courtesan Catherine Walters) and Cora Pearl were of the same era and their rivalry develops an aspect in this production which is somewhat trite, but both are very interesting, even alluring, and tell their stories well – except for a rather laughably executed fight scene. Jennifer Laine as Skittles controls the stage with fashionable aplomb to go with her riding crop, and Natasha White as bejewelled Pearl strides well, with power and coquetry, through the pride and pain of her story.
The intensity in the writing is alleviated by wit, bawdy humour, and direction which has the actors echoing, supporting and prodding each other, however the piece does start to feel long, not helped by increasing heat in the venue. This aside, Five Clever Courtesans is a very interesting play, entertaining and thought-provoking, and, yes – sexy.
Ticket information is available on the Fringe website.