Review: Hearty, Summerhall, Edinburgh Fringe

“We’ve been here before”, Emma Frankland shouts, panting. “Can you hear me?” Protruding from her back are a pair of wings, though they are more fearsome than feathery. Something of a steampunk contraption, knives act as plumage – their sharpness offset by the coat of kohl and glitter that lingers on Frankland’s cheekbones. The sound of white noise underscores this post-apocalyptic world, it is as if the audience have been caught between television channels. This is a place that is frighteningly recognisable, yet completely alien at the same time.

“We’ve been here before.” Frankland yells, as she brings a bottle of horse urine to her lips and drinks like her life depends on it. Her ripped tights glimmer with a layer of sweat, mixing with the water coating the stage floor. Hearty is messy. The production stands strong in the aftermath of the Gender Revolution. It is a mirroring of a climate much like our own, one that warns of destruction; there is the smell of suspense in the air. 

“We’ve been here before.” Frankland screams, pulling at the material around her buttocks to reveal a trio of patches. The sound of metal on metal washes over an analysis of Hormone Replacement Therapy. Namely, its bio-technology and uses for  sex reassignment. This is hallowed ground. A trans woman herself, Frankland explores this shape-shifting as a kind of superpower. She translates current fascinations surrounding the subject into a modern myth – where winged humans are endowed with tails. 

“We’ve been here before.” Frankland cries. This motif is used as a framework, the same sequence of events tweaked slightly with every reincarnation. She navigates a multitude of impressive props along the way too, though at times these appear to work against her. Hearty grows progressively more violent. It is charged with anger – a rage akin to that of her brothers and sisters. It is powerful, but terribly painful to witness.

There is also something hymnal about the production. A sense of ritual drives her message home. Through fire, she connects with her queer and trans ancestors, channelling their beauty, their fear and their hope for the future. The act of spectatorship is skewering. “Please don’t hurt me”, Frankland begs – a final cry for safety. “Please don’t hurt me.”

Hearty is playing Summerhall until 24 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.