Fringe Talk Day Twenty-one

Menagerie + A Call of Cthulhu - Thursday 21st September

For much of the Fringe I have walked to each venue, taking quiet back streets and major thoroughfares alike, hitting the pavement in the early evening hours as a way to shift from the working day into a more exploratory headspace. These journeys are a wonderful privilege, not needing to hurry, and each time I experience a small rush as residential darkness peels open to reveal an energised pocket of light and sound that is a Fringe site.


The Factory Theatre houses the bulk of the Fringe Comedy program: stand-up, improv and sketch shows from a broad church of skills and backgrounds. Tonight I'm in the safety of the second row at Josipa Draisma's clown piece Menagerie. Or at least, I am guarded until a black-clad figure – features hidden save for smiling eyes – diligently, kindly removes the seats of the front row. Draisma, here known as Baba Yiayia, doesn't want her audience hiding in the dark.

Baba Yiayia is joyful, embodying both the naughty child and wise nonna at some massive family party, calling out to us in her exuberant grammelot of animal noises and music lyrics. Her performance is infectious, her care for our fluency in this call-and-response language soon sees the audience creating exuberant soundscapes. I'm howling at a floating moon we pass among the audience, then clucking like a busy hen as Baba Yiayia kisses a very clever, tiny donkey. Effortlessly, we have become her eponymous menagerie.

I'm lost in this playful mode, and time bends back on itself with the alien grace of an octopus. It's now a night earlier, and I'm at the Old 505 Theatre in what my mind's eye wishes were a space under pre-electric gas lights. Here I'm in the front row for Sekrit Projekt's A Call of Cthulhu, watching two white-clad figures shuffle to Enya. Their night of casual Celtic vibes is crushed by the pompous machismo march of Young Wilcox, a professor of Lovecraftian literature who has come to deliver a lecture on the nature of fear in a universe of cosmic horror.


Central to this show is an argument that the work of H P Lovecraft – problematic racist and misogynist, disdainful of seafood – is geared towards a specific male reader, whose privilege gives him nothing to fear and so must reach towards hyperbolic ideas of a universe of dread and inhuman gods. Wilcox's breast-beating monologue is counterpointed by the ghosts of two women, invisible to him but welcomed by the audience. Their sardonic commentary and unaffected performance push Wilcox's histrionics into meaninglessness, and with him vanishes the vast threat of the sleeping ancient Cthulhu. 

Both nights close with the presence of death. Baba Yiayia collapses backwards into the arms of her silent, masked steward; Wilcox stands undressed in a small pool of light, surrounded by the maddening expanse of the unknown. 

From both I walk back out into the night, into the light and shade, the silent paths and pools of music.

[Alana is back tomorrow with the powerhouse Billie McCarthy and Missing]


Written by James Dalton