Review: Anguis, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh Fringe

Anguis is a thrilling new play about an intriguing dynamic between two powerful women. On one side we have the royal Cleopatra (played by Paksie Vernon) from 29 BC Egypt, who ruled as a pharaoh for over two decades. On the other, there is Kate Williams (played by Janet Kumah), the fictional modern doctor, who is battling a baseless court case concerning her negligence as a virologist. The two of them start off friendly and calm but soon turn to a heated argument, as the equally principled women battle out their different perspectives on feminism. 

The play’s plot is a recording of a podcast where Cleopatra is interviewed about her famously eventful life. But both Kate’s and Cleopatra’s lives unfold before our eyes, raising interesting questions about discrimination throughout history. It is playing on the idea that Cleopatra took her own life with an asp bite. Whether it is actually true is yet to be discovered, but the show turns the asp bite myth into a metaphor about the power of an individual to shape their own story.

Anguis begins with the beautiful voice of Vernon singing wistfully  and playing guitar. Her soulful tone is gently soothing in the first song, which quickly fades and turns into true courageous angst in the second. She is an utter delight to watch in both her singing and acting. Vernon’s riveting presence on stage is matched by Kumah. She is performing with ease and passion, never once slipping up in the passionate and fast-paced dialogue. She creates a multifaceted portrayal of Kate who goes from liking, to hating, to loving Cleopatra. The two of them create an electric atmosphere on stage that slowly bubbles and then explodes throughout the play. 

Peter Losasso plays the seemingly dim-witted but actually wise assistant David. Losasso performs this cockney intern with poise and charm. His character seems benign to start, but then releases powerful lines at the end that create a perfect poignancy and round off the complex play. 

I particularly enjoyed the engrossing and beautifully worded script by Sheila Atim. I have had the delight to see Atim perform on stage twice, and can confirm she is just as talented as a writer. She has packed so many different ideas into this 60 minute play that sometimes it’s hard to know which message to focus on. It covers issues of discrimination on the basis of  gender, race, and social status, as well as examines the very ideas of truth and justice. Most interestingly, it shows that even though powerful people outwardly have the strength to fight their battles, the acts of aggression and discrimination they face still leave their toll on them. Atim is raising important questions in Anguis and marries them with a flowing script that is hard to fault. 

Overall this Fringe production is outstanding and a must see. It truly accomplishes the main aim of the festival, which is to bring revolutionary new work by less established writers into the light. I hope to see this show and its cast thrive on stages beyond the Fringe.

Anguis is playing at Gilded Balloon Teviot (Dining Room) until 26 August 2019. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.