Theatre review: Mammoth
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: Mammoth at Pleasance Dome (Venue 23), reviewed by David Pollock
We’re here to see a play, and not just any play. It’s a picture of the life of Jessica Fleming and Fergus Boyd, wife and husband, who have “failed utterly” as parents and are going to show us why. “This bringing up a child with a man, it’s a joyless task,” sighs Jessica, as Fergus shuffles uneasily in the background.
They’ve decided to paint a “family picture” live on stage, she says, in order that their son Kyle might get “a better idea of how things could have been done. By seeing someone else play the role you can develop a more positive experience of your own upbringing.”
Kyle has a life of his own now, of course, so he won’t be playing himself. Instead, Jessica’s elderly mum is standing in. To her Kyle is forever four years old, and she aims for a degree of method authenticity by wetting herself and donning a superhero costume (The Phantom, a strangely out-of-time choice) as she gets progressively more drunk. Fergus isn’t really all here either, instead preferring to search for a smartphone signal and ponder the intricacies of the wi-fi network through which he can show us his slideshow.
Part of the Pleasance’s three-part From Start to Finnish series of plays from Finland, Mammoth is an English language sequel to playwright and director Leea Klemola’s cult stage hit Jessica: Born Free, and it is at once highly experimental, utterly sure of its message and somewhat self-indulgent, in the way that only a work which is determined to disintegrate boundaries around it gets to be.
Its most outré choices are often its best, from the fake fourth wall-breaking to the casting of actor Ian Cameron as the family dog Baxter, who spends most of the play naked, daubed in mud and either chasing rabbits or undergoing an existential crisis. Cameron’s performance is perhaps most memorable for its rawness and bravery, but everyone here is excellent: Vari Sylvester, adrift from the modern world and blissfully unaware as the mother; Greg Powrie, the geekish and detached technophile Fergus; and Deborah Arnott, truly majestic as Jessica, fearful and in the midst of a scarily realistic breakdown as she struggles to process the modern world of emotional distance men have created.
Escaping to the forest, she seeks regression to a state where humans’ relationship with nature was pure, all the time fearful as she gazes up at the trees that “this life doesn’t exist”.
Until 25 August. Today 2:40pm
Originally published in The Scotsman