Do you like French humour? You’re about to find out. Physical comedy and storytelling combine in Aude Lener’s one-woman show On Edge as she tells the story of her life in Paris as an actress in the 24 hours preceding her son’s wedding and all the mixed emotions that follow.
The story she tells is poignant and heartfelt, though some of the comedy is muddled through poor translation and a few scenes that border into problematic territory. It’s no easy feat to perform an entirely translated piece but Aude’s talent as a physical comedian shines through and the show is well worth watching for its story alone.
Embedded within the show is a subtle yet compelling interplay of themes that resonate with contemporary discourse. Aude navigates the delicate intricacies of identity, self-doubt, and regret within the tumultuous 24 hours leading to her son’s wedding. As the story unfolds, the central theme of questioning one’s adequacy as a parent intersects with broader societal conversations on motherhood.
When a casting director asks Aude if she is a “real mother” it prompts a spiral of self-doubt and nostalgia that haunts her for the 24 hours before her son’s wedding. She is a mother, she argues, but she’s not sure she was a good one. She calls her son’s voicemail regularly to no response and tries desperately to fill the void he’s left behind with drinking and men – even her dog is called Victoria, a feminine version of her son’s name “Victor”.
She attends a mothers’ support group and reminisces about her son’s childhood and can’t help but dwell on the ways she feels she failed. Aude is a talented performer, and her physical comedy is excellent – making even the more mundane scenes a hoot to watch. The piece is populated with ridiculous characters, such as her excitable dog Victoria, an ever-yawning casting director and her daughter-in-law’s rich Texan mother.
Unfortunately, in her excitement to show off her abilities as a physical comedian she includes some unnecessarily distasteful moments such as the mother in her therapy group, Michelle, with a non-descript disability who appears for all of thirty seconds so Aude can do a generic impression of an intellectually and physically disabled person for a cheap laugh. Another odd moment appears to use the character of a hijabi woman as a shorthand for being oppressed – a weird moment of nuance-free criticism that lacks self-awareness and feels out of place. Maybe something was lost in translation, but it left a poor taste in my mouth.
Monologues are broken up with moments of physical storytelling set to music which help tremendously with setting the pacing. The pacing in the show was not fantastic, however. I felt that the opening scenes were a little thin and it took me a few minutes to really get immersed in the story. Later on, some scenes suffered from a lack of space between them. It can be jarring to end an impactful scene on a big flourish without a breath before the next scene to allow the audience to digest it.
The piece is well-written with each scene loaded with subtext on Aude and her relationship to motherhood. Her nostalgia, fears and jealousy are all explored with a cast of colourful characters including one of the most emotional scenes I’ve ever seen about cooking some pasta.
The translation element both aids and hampers the writing. While most of the comedy comes from her physicality and her voice-work, and works brilliantly, the writing makes no attempt at adapting the humour to an English-speaking audience and maintains a uniquely French voice. However, this does lead to some humour falling flat, or worse, not making much sense at all. For instance, Aude repeatedly ends dramatic scenes by referencing her background as a “comedian” which is a false friend with “comedienne” meaning actress in French. It doesn’t have quite her intended effect when she ends a dramatic scene with “of course, I am a comedian” and punctuates her physical comedy with nothing at all. There is also a running joke about the French expression “courage à toi” which translates awkwardly as “courage to you”. It doesn’t hit quite the same in English and could probably use some workshopping to smooth over these hiccups in the writing.
On Edge explores these crucial 24 hours of emotion with brilliant character work and writing. Her regret, self-doubt and nostalgia are palpable but expressed through an expert comedic voice though the writing does suffer from some translation errors and a lack of linguistic adaptation. While most of her comedy is hilariously executed, she does make some questionable choices in her attempt to be transgressive and edgy.
The show does a fantastic job of showing off Aude’s talent and the story it has to share with us is a crucially original perspective on a stage of motherhood that is rarely explored but needs a fair amount of work to suit its new audience on the international stage.
Poignant, dramatic and funny – Aude merges a captivating performance with an original perspective on motherhood while maintaining, for better or worse, a distinctly French brand of humour.
Recommended drink: A few shots of vodka the night before for those pre-wedding nerves!
Catch On Edge until August 12th at 21:40 at theSpaceUK Triplex. Tickets are available through the EdFringe Box Office.