Review: 13 Fruitcakes (Edinburgh Fringe, online)

The listing for this show on the Fringe website categorises 13 Fruitcakes as ‘cabaret and variety’ but it is in fact it proves to be much more, a diverse and completely original show which carries us on a trip through gay stories and icons of history.

A piece from the Singing Actors Repertory Theatre, based in Seoul, Korea, 13 Fruitcakes is a musical drama running at 85 minutes, subtitled in English. The politics and activism are those we recongise, the style is a fusion of theatre and dance., with some moments of movement staying long in the memory (Hans Christian Andersen’s creation of A Little Mermaid; Alan Turing’s death ballet)

The music is pulsing or melodic, the singing is operatic or traditional MT, the lyrics are mainly in English, with Korean translation on a screen or images outlying the theme. The text is rich, the stories full, the tone is one of love and celebration. It is a deeply moving and intense show which certainly has a claim to being one of this year’s best Festival Fringe shows.

The musical vignettes include with original songs composed by Gihieh Lee, lyrics by Lorca, Wilde, Whitman and other queer poets, and electronic music by Los Angeles Laptop Collective. Directed by Byungkoo Ahn and featuring a talented cast led by More Zinin, one of the premier drag performers in Korea, this is a show which constantly surprises and educates.

Images of famous gay people populate this mulitimedia gem which is full of complex inagery, animation, and sound, and choreographed pantomime of storytelling. The framing device has Orlando, gender-fluid time traveller, opening and closing the show: in between, gay stories and icons of the familiar and not so familiar.

Promotional image for 13 Fruitcakes

At times this show might be a little too ambitious, and it doesn’t always feel part of a whole. Some stories are tragic (the King Hyegong of Silla; Turing, Gertrude Stein & Alice B Toklas, Andersen), some are inspirational (John Calvin, Eleanor Roosevelt), others are playful (Dong Xien, Victoria Woolf & Vita Sackville West, Harmodius and Aristogelton) or celebratory of artistic achievement (Tchaikovsky, Di Vinci).

13 Fruitcakes is a show which is unlike any other. It can be read as a celebration of gay liberation, while still aware of the discrimination meted out to others. Even in neighbouring North Korea, gay behaviour and relationships are not illegal, but neither are they tolerated.

There is a sense of resilience and danger throughout this piece which remains unresolved even by the appeance of the rainbow flag and equality banners at the end. But it certainly brings an audience a lot to process as they watch.

Fringe rating: ****

You can stream 13 Fruitcakes on the Assembly Showcaster platform at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until the end of August. Book your ticket here.