Lauren James

at 07:51 on 23rd Aug 2018

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Walking into venue 53 to watch sketch show ‘Fagin and the Star City Rebels’, I was met on the entrance by Fagin himself, Lee Mark Jones. He thrust a flyer into my hand and began his efforts to convince me to come along to his creation which he claimed as ‘the worst at the Fringe’. Despite trying to reassure him that, albeit duty-bound, I would be taking my seat at 23:20, he drowned me out by continuing to shout ‘it’s awful’, ‘one star’, ‘horrible’ – he was not wrong.

Though unclear, the show’s premise appears to be centred on some sort of portal which attempts to lead the audience into bizarre and unsettling worlds. In reality, it seemed like a collection of Jones’ dreams which he decided to haphazardly string together in order to visit Edinburgh for a couple of weeks. They ranged from ‘Father Nature’, which saw Jones invite audience members to gallop on hobby horses, to him donning an angel mask and attempting to grapple with the problem of evil.

Between Jones’ episodes we were faced with a mute jester who would fill time between clunky costume changes with balloon-blowing or fiddling with string. This was painfully slow and laborious. However, there were snatches of wit in the script. Particularly enjoyable was when, dressed as a red raging bull, Jones described Italy’s progress under the Borgias, referring to the fame of Da Vinci as well as the birth of the Renaissance, before comparing Switzerland’s growth over the same time span in which its greatest export was the cuckoo clock. Nevertheless, further humour was invariably lost either in the eclectic range of masks which Jones would don or the overriding brashness of the piece in itself.

The show’s singular highlight was when Jones, dressed as Jesus, offered audience members the Holy Eucharist. This consisted of cheap red wine consumed in a plastic shot glass as well as monster munch representing the body of Christ. Sadly, this was the most tasteful part of the entire show and I enjoyed drowning out further dialogue with vigorous crunching.

At the beginning of the show, Jones entrusted me with a plastic gun, telling me to ‘shoot at anything which comes on stage’. My mistake was not carrying out such instructions sooner. 'Fagin and the Star City Rebels' advertise their show as presenting a carnival of delights which leads you "somewhere you don’t want to go". Take this advice literally and avoid this nightmare at all costs.

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Miles Jackson

at 16:22 on 23rd Aug 2018

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"I don’t even know what that shit was," performer Lee Mark-Jones says to the crowd following the end of ‘Fagin and the Star City Rebels’. To be honest, neither do I. In all my years of attending the Fringe, I have never seen a show this weird. It is the definition of an acquired taste, a bizarre, disturbing, sporadically funny descent into the darkest vices of Mark-Jones’ soul. Moments of it are excruciating and painfully long. Others are among the most blisteringly bold theatre I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. Regardless of whether you love it or hate it, one thing is certain: you will never forget it.

Mark-Jones inhabits a cavalcade of different characters introduced through a sort of "dark portal" (a glorified peep-show box), always dressed in a ridiculous yet beautifully designed get-up. Visually, the show is unforgettable; at one point a Luciferian angel takes to the stage in a pale white, cracked and fractured baby mask resembling something out of Terry Gilliam’s ‘Brazil’. It is surrealism at its most disquieting, with many of the audience laughing out of seeming nervousness at the sheer otherworldliness of the show’s aesthetic.

Vast swathes of the show range between being completely lacking in subtlety or being nothing short of incomprehensible. An Archbishop character is pointlessly lewd, satirising religion in the most overt, obvious way possible to little effect beyond creeping the audience out. A character that takes to the stage in a gas mask is baffling, with Mark-Jones only adding to the confusion by pointlessly cutting off the voiceover that plays during the segment with his wheezing and interjections as to how hard it is to breathe under the mask.

Even so, some of the soliloquies Mark-Jones performs are shocking, brutal and oddly beautiful. The show ends on an utterly incredible monologue by a Punch and Judy-style puppet decrying the horrors of ageing, the vacuousness of celebrity and the inherent evil of institutions, from government to religion to humanity as a whole. At its best, the show resembles the heath scene from King Lear, a nonsensical yet totally captivating journey into a heart of darkness. Mark-Jones’ show, for all its misfires, is ultimately a natural reaction to an unnatural world. I have never seen anything like it.

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