Vertigo

Sun 7th – Sat 13th August 2011

reviews

sophie ainscough

at 10:34 on 14th Aug 2011

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Vertigo showcases a pair of apparently unrelated tales, brought together we are told by an administrative accident. Philippa attempts to recapture a fleeting sensation experienced at fourteen, whilst Tom is preoccupied with the constant dangers of the surrounding world.

Beginning in competitive unison repeating “my story, my story, my story”, the two narratives are comically intertwined and effectively juxtaposed, progressing and stalling in continual interruptions. Serving as extras for each other’s performance becomes an opportunity to see everything differently through another’s eyes. Whilst Tom recites other people’s fears collected from the streets of Edinburgh, in a further removal Philippa later sings the fears Tom has gathered. Moving through time, characters and costume changes, perception swings as another person doubtfully reads your deepest thoughts from a piece of paper. We move from Cambridge and heartbreak, invisibly sketched out before our eyes, back to a simply lit stage filled with staring faces. This, of course, is from the performer’s perspective – Tom switching places with an audience member to see the different view and to confirm her assertion that it’s all “a bit scary” really. Emotion is played out vividly in Philippa‘s facial expressions, almost excessively were it not for the background of childish enthusiasm and glee to be recaptured.

The step ladder Philippa claims to carry with her everywhere epitomises this dizzying potential for continually altering perspective, as she changes from a seven foot father to a sky diver, all in a desperate attempt to rediscover that lost sensation, which the audience too are to share in, but which slips away in the shift of stories. Empathy and allegiance with the duo lingers however, despite all the switches and swaps of storyline. From comically touching childhood memories like seven year old Tom’s anecdote of a boy’s bike (Cinnamon), a loss of trust in a father and in the safety of the surrounding world the stories close with a final unified moment, reaching out into the air for unknown future years, something which they cannot yet re-play and re-form.

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Olivia Edwards

at 11:51 on 14th Aug 2011

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Watching Philippa Hogg and Tom Penn’s devised piece is a bit like the feeling of vertigo itself (‘the sensation of movement while stationary’, not to be confused, Wikipedia insists, with ‘acrophobia’, a fear of heights). Solo performers Philippa and Tom arrive in Edinburgh to discover that The Bedlam Theatre has double booked their slot, confused by the fact that both shows had the same name. Philippa’s Vertigo is about her mission to find the ultimate sensation that she felt at fourteen; Tom’s Vertigo is a ‘think piece presentation’ analysing sources of fear. The show that is born out of this muddle is a collage of overlapping scenes from each solo piece enhanced or interrupted by the other performer. At the show’s opening the disjointedness of the pieces frequently sends the audience into fits of laughter: Philippa introduces us to a stepladder called Alice that she carries on her back before Tom hurries into centre stage wrapped in a white sheet and asks Si at the sound desk for the ‘ghost sound track’. But, as this desultory piece hurtles on, it not only becomes apparent that Philippa and Tom need each other – to play fathers, skydiving instructors and the guitar – but they are preoccupied with the same thing: resurrecting memories from their childhood, sifting through experiences that helped to define who they have become.

Hogg and Penn work fantastically well together, cultivating two childlike personas naïve enough not to uphold the fourth-wall and both possessing impeccable comic timing. Philippa Hogg has the most beautiful singing voice. Penn was particularly funny during his piece about his manly bicycle Cinnamon – I haven’t laughed as hard as I did then in any of the stand-up shows I’ve seen at the Fringe this year.

Tom and Philippa recall feeling ‘vertigo’ at points in their life when they have to leave behind something or someone they love. At twenty-one, both performers face leaving behind a phase of life they clearly cherish and find themselves teetering on the edge of a new phase of life, facing fresh, unknown challenges. As someone who turned twenty-two last-week and has since been regularly experiencing paroxysms of fear about what on earth I am going to do with my life, Vertigo felt particularly poignant. If I was to make a criticism to explain my decision not to give this show a full five stars, it would be that I felt that the excerpts from Tom’s solo show were harder to follow as part of a coherent whole than Philippa’s were and I would like to have been given more of an idea how Tom’s scenes could have slotted together to make a solo show.

This is an extremely thought-provoking piece, cerebral, but not too earnest. I cannot wait to see their next project.

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