FRINGE REVIEW – The Surrender

*****

By Jen McGregor

Considering that The Surrender bills itself as an adaptation of an erotic memoir, it’s surprisingly cold and lacking in sensuality. The set consists of stripped pine furniture, a set of stacking shelves, an overhead projector and screen. Combined with some rather cold lighting, it makes for a somewhat clinical atmosphere.

This isn’t helped by either the text or the performance. While Isabelle Stoffel is very watchable and has the technique and charisma to carry a solo show, she is controlled and precise to the point where it is difficult to imagine her relinquishing that control and giving herself over to the life of a sexual submissive. It would be interesting to see her performing better material.

The script suffers from a painful lack of balance and depth. Based on Toni Bentley’s memoir, it completely fails to give the protagonist any personality. She is a cardboard cut-out of a sex addict, with no thoughts or feelings that do not relate to her sex life. Only in the last ten minutes of the play is there any attempt to flesh her out and give her an emotional life, but by then it is too late. The moment has passed. Perhaps it could have worked as a character study of an obsessed woman, but the opportunities to explore and interrogate the nature of obsession are never taken. They are passed over in favour of recounting a relentless stream of very similar sexual encounters. The text aspires to lyricism but only manages to be a little cringeworthy. Namedropping Freud and Kierkegaard and throwing in a single reference to subjectivity and objectivity does not suffice to turn the show into the intellectual piece it apparently longs to be.

There’s also a strong sense that someone – perhaps Toni Bentley, perhaps the playwright, perhaps everyone involved – thinks that they are being awfully transgressive by talking about promiscuity, light BDSM and anal sex. Unfortunately, here at the Edinburgh Fringe where these things have been standard fare since long before 50 Shades hit the shelves, shows like this just don’t seem as naughty as they think they are. Combined with Bentley’s need to justify her escapades as some kind of spiritual experience, it makes for a clichéd and unconvincing hour.

The Surrender runs at the Gilded Balloon until 26 August at 13.30. Running time is one hour and five minutes.

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