Sick of the Fringe festival revolves around health and human bodies

Bourgeois and Maurice, Antibiotic Apocalypse

Bourgeois and Maurice, Antibiotic Apocalypse - Credit: Archant

Sick of the Fringe co-curator Brian Lobel wants the 30 performances, music events, talks and workshops to generate “powerful nuanced conversations” around art, medicine and illness

From a death café to shows about Tourette’s, colitis and pelvic floor prolapse, a weekend festival is showcasing work around health and human bodies with all their vulnerabilties and possibilities.

Sick of the Fringe co-curator Brian Lobel wants the 30 performances, music events, talks and workshops to generate “powerful nuanced conversations” around art, medicine and illness.

“We celebrate the most interesting and depressing conversations you have had and try to pre-empt some of the most important conversations moving forward,” says Lobel, who has performed for 15 years around his own cancer diagnosis and co-wrote the National Theatre’s recent musical A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer.

The programme at Camden People’s Theatre, the Wellcome Collection and The Place covers: “sex, guts, poop and pee.” “You can see shows on all four things,” says the 35-year-old.

“At the Edinburgh Festival for the last two years we have been trying to have considered conversations and be a force for good for artists making work around illness disability and the body, giving them more research and a community. I have been performing around my own cancer for many years and found it to be a very lonely existence. Conversations about stigmatised bodies are awkward.”

The programme includes a talk by palliative care expert Dr Kathryn Mannix, and a Death Café where people can have “facilitated conversations to try to break down the fear of death.”

Most Read

“Mannix talks about how we fear death because we see it portrayed badly on TV and uses examples from film and TV. When you see characters say something dramatic with their last gasp, it seems so painful but if we knew what death really looked like we would be less scared about it.”

A new commission sees sequin-clad drag act Bourgeois&Maurice explore sex and drug-resistant infections and chemsex drug parties using musical comedy and guest experts.

Also on the bill are Brigitte Aphrodite’s musical about depression My Beautiful Black Dog, Liz Richardson’s solo show Gutted based on living with colitis, and incontinence comedy, Gusset Grippers, by pelvic health physiotherapist Elaine Miller who puts audiences through their kegel exercises.

Jess Thom (Tourette’s Hero) talks about diversity and discusses preparing to perform Beckett’s Not I in which a disembodied mouth spouts a stream of consciousness: “How does her voice with its ticks perform that work?” asks Lobel.

Alix Generous who has done TED talks about her Asperger’s also appears, and Kim Bowers aka Busty Beatz offers a post-colonial critique of objects in the Wellcome Collection’s gallery: “Looking at the political importance of black women’s bodies in relation to the collection.”

With the Fringe turning 70 this year, seven comedians spanning seven decades, from a 14-year-old to octogenarian Lynn Ruth Miller, each have seven minutes “to offer a more robust national conversation about age.”

“We want to bring the energy of the fringe to this part of London, encourage people to take in a big day, see lots of things and consider them together,” says Lobel.

Asked whether comedy is an appropriate way of addressing these subjects he says he doesn’t want to “police anyone’s tone”.

“None of the shows are just this or just that, there’s a fearless mix of tones and topics. Work about serious subjects ventures into the world of stand up comedy. I call my show a ‘traumedy’ it’s funny because I am a funny positive person. I am not interested in propriety around these things, talking about cancer seriously doesn’t cure anyone’s cancer. I share my story in the way I want to share it.”

He adds that one show Austerity Cuts is “a serious call from the void from someone being tested in the most undignified way for their benefits”.

“It’s lyrical poetic and shocking but not funny. It’s not a time for joking but for extreme political action against the most despicable treatment of people with disabilities.”

SOTF London runs 17–19 February.