Sunday, August 14, 2016

Partial Nudity (ZOO, Edinburgh Fringe)

Partial Nudity is the inaugural production of the fledgling Fandango theatre company, set up by actors Joe Layton and Kate Franz to fulfil their dream of staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Their raison d'etre is to deliver a message that matters, focusing on sexual politics. What better way to do that than to stick one man and one woman in a room together and make them talk?

Darren is a stripper from Bolton looking forward to, but understandably anxious about, his first "full strip". His schtick is the sexy American cop, complete with cap, plastic handcuffs and mirrored shades. He's your stereotypical jack-the-lad, a cock o' the walk who thinks he's a major draw for the ladies simply because they pay good money to ogle his manhood (but let's face it, most women burst into laughter when they see a man's penis).

Nina is a stripper from America who is studying at Manchester University and takes off her clothes in order to pay her student debts. Her schtick is sexy nurse and naughty nun, equipped with fishnets, high heels and leather basque. She is jaded by the stripping industry, seemingly scarred by leering men's assumption that strippers = hookers, and that because they're paying to see most of the goods, they can get the rest for free.

Each with their own strip show at the same club on the same night (one for a hen, one for a stag), they find themselves forced to share the same back room before their performances. They are strangers, and they do not get on. They are from different worlds, different backgrounds and have very different perspectives on why they are there.

Darren strips for the glory, the girls, the attention. Nina strips to get an education. Darren strips out of choice, Nina out of (what she sees as) necessity.

The dynamic is pretty run of the mill. Writer Emily Layton treats each gender precisely how you'd expect. The stereotypical cocky bloke who just wants all the girls and lies to his girlfriend, and the predictably sardonic girl who scoffs and dismisses Darren's laddish bluster. She is at first mildly amused by him, then increasingly irritated, whereas Darren remains naively nonplussed but essentially friendly.

Kate Franz and Joe Layton
While Partial Nudity does make efforts to address gender perspectives on the naked form as both a tool and an object of desire, it doesn't have much new to say. At the end of the play Nina has a raging monologue about how much harder it is to be a female stripper than a male stripper, and how Darren shouldn't choose to do it if he doesn't have to, but then it simply ends, and rather abruptly too. The play expects the audience to come to its own conclusion, but is given very little material with which to do so. It's frustrating that Partial Nudity has less to say than it thinks, because Emma Layton's debut at last year's Fringe, Two Thirds, showed such promise, and certainly more complexity.

Bolstering the script are the performers. Joe Layton is every inch the brash Mancunian scoundrel, and has a very natural, endearing presence despite his boisterous attitude. He lets light in on Darren's vulnerability, his faltering self-confidence when it comes to the "final reveal", and ultimately adds valuable depth to the stereotype on the surface.

Kate Franz is equally as fun to watch, her telling facial expressions speaking volumes about Nina's dismissive attitude to Darren. Nina obviously has her domestic issues, and a bee in her bonnet about the predicament she finds herself in. Whether she's too harsh on the naive Darren is up to the audience to decide.

As a frothy vehicle to help Layton and Franz fulfil their Fringe dream, Partial Nudity does the job. While the script may not be very adventurous, it is laugh-out-loud funny in parts (largely down to Layton's spot-on delivery, while his scuffle with Nina's make-up is a gem) and has two charming characters that you enjoy spending time with.

The stats
Writer and director: Emma Layton
Cast: Joe Layton (Darren); Kate Franz (Nina)
Performed at ZOO, Edinburgh, August 5th to 27th, 2016. Performance reviewed: August 14th, 2016

Partial Nudity Twitter feed (retrieved Aug 14 2016)
Fandango Productions crowdfunding page (retrieved Aug 14 2016)

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