Saturday, 23 August 2008

Fringe Review - Bethany Black: Beth Becomes Her, Baby Belly 3 at the Underbelly, 21/08/2008

On a rain-sodden night, when Beth Black informs her audience that she has paid five and a half thousand pounds to hire the wettest cave in Edinburgh, you believe her. As it is, the audience have to be led through darkened tunnels via a back entrance because the main one is flooded, to find Beth herself waiting to greet everyone personally and thank them for coming to her show. Which is an apposite way to begin, because by the end of the night, that same audience will feel like they know her as an intimate friend.

The show is titled Beth Becomes Her, and she quickly gets the reason for this out of the way for those who arrived not already aware. Beth literally became her, having lived the formative part of her life as him. And what we get in this show, in raw and sometimes graphic, but never uncomfortable detail, is the full story of how this came to be.

It's a tale involving hardship and heartbreak, depression and near suicide, and if that doesn't sound like the stuff of comedy, you're probably right, but in Black's capable hands it is very very funny nonetheless. And that is what makes this show something special, that without ever compromising in the telling, she can still wring humour out of real situations that she lived through that must, at the time, have taken her to some of the blackest places imaginable. One moment, in which she acts out in a brutal and uncompromising style the final thoughts running through her mind as she prepared to take her own life, and still manages to get a laugh at the punchline, sums up exactly why this show is such a must-see.

And it isn't all bleakness and heartache, because as she moves through her journey to the feminine side, from acceptance that she will never live happily in a male body, through the support of her family and friends, to finally finding happiness and love in her new life, it turns into something of a life-affirming tale. Beth advertises herself as a transgendered lesbian goth, which might lead some to expect something of a freakshow, but the result is anything but.

This is her first Edinburgh show, but it won't be her last. It isn't perfect, some of the gags are a little obvious, and there are sections which probably could be slicker, but these are minor niggles. There are plenty of comedy shows that will make you laugh, that's part of the job description, and a good few that will make you think, but it's a rare one that will rip your guts out and then put them back again intact. Beth has already made one transformation, and there's another one coming. Mark my words, a star is in the making.

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