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Festival Review: Ban This Filth!

Jason Henderson reviews one of the festival's highlights.

If there is one show at this year’s Fringe that can seamlessly combine the side-splitting with the severe and the hilarious with the heart-breaking, while simultaneously exploring, examining and challenging stances on serious issues, then Ban This Filth!(*****) is it.

The show is a brave and extensive examination of writer Alan Bissett’s own life experiences, from playing games with pals and finding ‘scuddy-mags’ in the woods, to being seduced by an older woman and spending the night on the pull, full of drink and drugs, at a Falkirk nightclub. Bissett’s candid delivery and naturally funny persona combine to make this element of the show a comical yet authentic story that has the audience in roars of laughter or expressing sounds of mutual acknowledgement at recognisable aspects of ‘Lad Culture’.

However, this playful retelling of Bissett’s life runs alongside numerous appearances of renowned feminist Andrea Dworkin (Bissett himself) reading extracts from her 1981 work ‘Pornography’, complete with authentic New Jersey accent, in which some of the subjects visited are rape and physical beatings due to sexuality - a sobering and, at times, shocking parallel.

Quickly, Bissett’s engaging account of puberty and growing up becomes a comfort zone for the audience, where laughter is common place. There are stages where the involvement of Dworkin momentarily lapses from memory and only the change in the lighting and Bissett’s short journey from the centre of the stage to a podium at the side signals the arrival of the American. Suddenly, the audience cannot help but hush into complete silence as the seriousness of Dworkin’s words return. At times, there is almost a sense of cautious fear at just what she is about to say.

The result is a hugely powerful expression of Bissett’s own battles with the issue of feminism and the impact it has had on his own life thus far. For the duration, it is almost impossible to take your eyes off the performer and yet, with just a change of lighting and accent, he successfully transforms from Falkirk lad to radical feminist with ease. However, this is not simply a show about Alan Bissett and Andrea Dworkin – audience interaction (both in the theatre and via social media prior to the show) becomes a crucial part of proceedings, as those present are both engaged by the performer and forced to seriously think about the subjects at hand.

Perhaps the most telling factor of all is that, once Bissett leaves the stage and the lights go up, discussions erupt in the theatre and spill out onto the streets of Edinburgh. In Ban This Filth!, Bissett not only entertains but grabs each individual, forcing them to challenge their own perceptions of life and gender, culminating in deliberation and debate long after the show has finished. Given this was undoubtedly the novelist and playwright’s aim, it is hard to argue that ‘Ban This Filth!’ is anything other than a triumph.

Ban This Filth is at the Storytellers Centre until Aug 11.

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