- Flora Gosling
Review: Invisible Mending (Summerhall)
A loving memoir that risks becoming too lofty for its own good
There are many ways to memorialise someone after they pass. You can plant a tree, build a bench, scatter ashes, or, as this year’s Fringe has proved more than any, you can make a show about them. One such show is Invisible Mending by Yoshika Colwell and Second Body. Colwell weaves together a show about her grandmother Ann, her love of knitting, and Colwell’s own experiences leading up to and immediately after her death.
The performance consists of several threads; readings from Colwell’s diary, humble monologues on her hopes and fears, verbatim audio clips from loved ones, and folk singing and storytelling. She stands under the soft glow of squirrel cage light bulbs, surrounded by mic stands, and accompanied by Max Barton, who performs a variety of instruments and plays them in loops throughout the performance. It is all supremely refined, but also rather familiar.
It is very reminiscent of Second Body’s previous work Styx, which was performed at the Edinburgh Fringe last year. That too dealt with themes of grief, featured verbatim audio from loved ones, and monologues about the theatre-makers' own experiences. The only major difference is that Greek mythology has been exchanged for folk storytelling. This is not to say that Invisible Mending is a copycat of that show, but rather it shows the versatility of Second Body’s form. These performances are the theatrical equivalent of binding a memoir in an elegant hardback book, with a matt black cover and gilt-edged pages. They elevate the human stories they tell to a level of ornate grandeur.
Photo Credit: Lewis Palfrey
The only flaw in this method is that elevating someone’s life story like this risks losing authenticity. To avoid this, there are things that ground the performance. Some are quite affecting, such as when Colwell takes artefacts from her grandmother’s life (a candle, a jumper, clothes washing instructions) and tells us about the story behind them. But others, particularly from Colwell’s own life, are unintentionally alienating: like the fact she keeps those artefacts in a Kipling bag, or describing a day spent idling around Soho drinking three artisanal coffees, or in her recollections when she suddenly appears in Amsterdam as casually as if it were a trip to the supermarket.
Even so, Colwell is a natural storyteller. She has an inviting manner and a sense of calm self-assuredness that makes an audience feel as though they are in safe hands. Some of the threads of her performance are more successful than others. Although her singing during the folk section is a pleasure to listen to, the actual story that she tells is overly poetic and hard to understand until the very end, at which point it feels unrewarding. But others take unexpectedly heart-warming directions, such as when Colwell learns that both her grandmother and Simone de Beauvoir share the same existentialist fears as her.
Invisible Mending has an enviable level of finish. Everything has a delicate, professional touch but still retains that intimacy that makes Fringe shows so involving. It is a performance that will reach some people with how lovingly Colwell speaks of her grandmother, but sadly the alienating details and overly grand storytelling means that it will not connect with as wide an audience as Colwell and Second Body would like. Three stars.
Invisible Mending will run at Summerhall in the Demonstration Room at 16:45 until August 14