Binge Fringe Magazine

REVIEW: Burnt Lavender, Missing Link Theatre, EdFringe 2023 ★★★☆☆

Content Warning: Discussions of Sexual Violence and Conversion Therapy

With inspirations seen from shows like Cabaret and Kinky Boots, Burnt Lavender uses physical theatre, dance and song to explore queer history and the problems we still face today. 

This ensemble piece starts with a dance number the Kit Kat Club would be proud of. Throughout the show the company are in sync with their movements, feeling as if they move as one when needed, and make the individuals who break away stand out even more. 

Stand out moments include a monologue about conversion therapy, delivered by an actor whose voice and demeanour were wonderful, playing an officer at the institute. Through the monologue he starts to realise that perhaps what he is doing is wrong, and the way the actor portrayed this through a shaking voice really hit home, even though you want to hate him, he is a victim too. 

A flamenco dance, where the omniscient voice is insistent, boys must dance with girls, but couples start to disobey, shows true joy, before being forced away again. The way the bodies moved on stage, as they found their true partners and started to love the music and the moment, was beautifully effective. 

Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ introduced heightened caricatures to lighten the mood when needed, with ridiculous sins they are trying to absolve. This led to claps, laughs and cheering from the audience and brought the joy within the piece to the forefront. Balancing the joy and hardship is done expertly throughout. 

And towards the end of the show visiting Marsha P Johnson and the riot of Stonewall, hearing her speak through the megaphone on stage, and the company listening. This of course was immensely powerful and I waited through the piece with baited breath knowing they would do it, but not knowing how, and being very pleasantly pleased with the outcome. 

The final speech about Trans love and Trans rights was the moment tears threatened to spill over, the writing perfectly fighting the current political climate. Both past and present were discussed throughout and it was well-rounded with talking about what we can hope for the future.

The writing bordered on spoken word, which in some sections felt beautiful but in others felt more unnatural and either didn’t get the point across. Sometimes this felt too literal, like when someone spoke about being put into a box and the company manoeuvre the set to make a box around them. 

Another moment I wasn’t sure of was speaking about the ‘magician’. There is a wonderful lip sync from a company member, set moving and the illusion of a circus, which I really enjoyed. Afterwards was a fantastic monologue piece from an actor that was perfectly performed, balancing comedy with trauma. It gave information in a metaphorical way, to talk about a harrowing event, which I think worked very well. But before we move in to this, while the set is moving and the music is playing we see ‘the magician’ sexually assault the woman. Personally, I don’t think this was necessary at all. We hear about the act from her in such a well thought-out way, that it felt the physicality of it was included for nothing but shock factor.

This is a show with triggering themes and a few instances of violence on stage, but I firmly believe that acts of sexual assault never need to be seen or portrayed, especially when they are spoken about after. With the way the company so expertly create physical theatre and movement pieces for challenging moments, I believe they could do something much smarter than the direct, graphic and physical attack. I think it is something easily done at the beginning of theatre making, but I would urge any company to consider why it is important to see the actual act, why you are putting it on stage, and what it brings the audience apart from shock and distress, which was already achieved with spoken word. 

The show was supported by incredible lighting design, including strip lights across the set, and washes to compliment movement pieces, time periods and emotions. The video design was a particular stand out, projected across the set while audio clips play explaining the history. It really elevates the piece and reminds you that this isn’t just a show, but real history affecting real people. The audio clips and music were cut together nicely and didn’t feel too overpowering or repetitive, often with the ensemble reacting, lip syncing or moving with the words to keep your focus from drifting. 

If taken further than the Fringe I believe Burnt Lavender would benefit from being made longer with a narrative through-line added, or original music ingrained. It is a piece that lends itself to more, allowing each section more time to breathe and dive deeper in to events.

Burnt Lavender is a beautiful, hard-hitting piece about queer history and celebrating love, balancing the joy with the heartbreak expertly. It is performed with passion by an amazing young company and I look forward to what they do next! It was a joy to see this front-row, beware of flying penis’ if you choose to do the same though.

Burnt Lavender has now finished its run at EdFringe but you can keep up to date with Missing Link Theatre on Twitter and Instagram to see what they do next.

Abbie Lowe

Abbie is a writer and theatre maker, originally from the West Midlands but now residing in Edinburgh. She is drawn to feminist, political, physical and immersive theatre, with a focus on championing work that is queer, female, or disabled-led. Abbie can often be found with a Tequila Sunrise - or just a shot of tequila, depending on the night.
Festivals: EdFringe (2023-24)
Pronouns: She/Her