Theatre Review: Splintered (Bedlam, Edinburgh Festival Fringe) ★★★

Written and directed by Emily Aboud and starring Charlotte Dowding, Sanaa Byfield and Natasha Simone, Splintered is a diverse cabaret that explores the experience of queer Caribbean people. Based upon interviews with women in Trinidad and Tobago and devised by a company of actors, this is a rebellious hour that seeks to empower and celebrate.

The cabaret conceit is a useful one, allowing the performers to approach different aspects of the stories  in vignettes without being wedded to an overarching narrative. There are thoughtful scenes about the perils of falling in love with your straight best friend and trying to come out to your family, followed by a superb pastiche of the Cell Block Tango from Chicago that had the whole audience roaring with laughter. There is a little too much explanation of what the show is, however, which impacts on the pace of the piece, and it is often  hard to hear what is being said, which is a great pity.

Charlotte Dowding, Sanaa Byfield and Natasha Simone in Splintered

There is exploration of the far-reaching impact of colonialism on Caribbean culture and attitudes, including the British laws that made homosexuality illegal in the West Indies. The performers and the recorded interviews discuss Carnival as a form of protest, and examine the fact that otherwise homophobic men are delighted to “drag up” for the celebrations.

Splintered is not a perfect piece, but it’s amplicifation of voices rarely heard is extremely important. The interview segments are particularly impactful, putting a spotlight on a number of topics such as male fetishism of  the idea of “lesbians” (but only if they really aren’t) along with lived experience of being out in Trinidad and Tobago. The acknowledgement made at the end that putting this show on in the Caribbean would be dangerous is sobering, and makes this production and its message even more vital.

By Deborah Klayman

Splintered plays at Bedlam, Edinburgh until 25th August.

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