happy birthday without you

Without question, Violet Fox is a wanker. Sonia Jalay, her creator, however, is a hilarious woman. PaperMash Theatre presents an exploration of Violet’s complicated relationship with her mother, through storytelling, visual art, interpretive dance, song and performance poetry. The “award winning” live and visual spoken word vegan solo artist and occasional collaborator is celebrating every birthday leading up to this moment, and you’re invited.

If you’ve even seen a play at the Fringe – nay, if you’ve ever seen a play – then something in Violet Fox’s performance will ring a bell. Extreme lighting changes, ominous music, leotards and sparkly bum bags, Happy Birthday Without You has it all. Jalay is all wide eyes and flailing limbs, contorting herself into Broadway divas, Violet’s mother and of course Violet herself. Her physicality carries elements of clowning, crafting her melodramatic alter ego with consideration. The first half isn’t as funny as it could be; the humour is a little forced and, as was commented to me, feels like a members-only club in the way it plays off theatre pretensions. As the production moves on and picks up its pace, Violet Fox starts to come into her own.

What stands out most for me about Violet, and Jalay, is the way she plays with audience expectations. The strongest sketches are those which don’t require a knowledge of theatre: when she attempts a game of musical chairs against a broken boombox, or fails to stand in position when the lights go up. Musical impressions (all incredible) carry on for just a little too long, the poetry scans badly enough to feel uncomfortable. Jalay presents a show which is constantly heightening the absurdity.

This isn’t a show for all tastes, and the humour doesn’t always hit the mark, but Happy Birthday Without You is playful and cleverly put together. In a final gesture from the emotional kaleidoscope that is our leading lady, we’re given a party bag to take away. Happy birthday Violet Fox.

Happy Birthday Without You is playing at Roundabout @ Summerhall (Venue 26a) until 30 August (no performances 18 or 25). For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.