Pleasance Courtyard – Above
The real story of Mabel Stark (Natisha Williams-Samuels) is hardly known to the general public. Born in Kentucky at the end of the 19th century, she was, in the 1920s, one of the pioneering women who became a big cat trainer. She was also the first to be in a cage with seven tigers. Award-winning Dead Rabbits Theatre have decided to bring her life to the stage, highlighting the personal drama behind the successful stage persona.
Growing up without parents in a community that considered circus “the devil’s work”, Mabel was so fascinated by Al G Barnes’s (Antonio Victorio) troop visiting town that she left everything behind to be part of it. Being accepted wasn’t easy, but her unfaltering determination eventually won through. Her rise to fame, along with her decline, are brought to life by this six-strong ensemble with an array of theatrical tricks.
For co-writer and director Kasia Zaremba-Byrne simplicity is key whilst still giving due attention to every detail of the production. A mix of recorded and live music keeps it bubbly; trombone, banjo, ukulele and guitar accompany the singing on stage. Some musical anachronisms, like Paolo Nutini’s Pencil Full Of Lead, can be forgiven as they really suit the action. The company opt for a southern American accent which, regrettably, isn’t solid enough to provide any real added value.
Every-day objects, like wooden ladders, are moved around to provide a setting for the different scenes. An enormous lightweight white cloth is used regularly to create the big top or produce the effect of the rolling ocean waves – creating one of the most beautiful moments in the show, fine-tuned by David Hockham’s evocative lighting. At one point, the same cloth takes the shape of an elephant, handled by the whole ensemble in an impressive display of large-scale puppetry.
A sprinkle of audience participation adds to the magic, and, despite my initial reluctance, I end up on stage with a paw-shaped mitt, roaring and shaking my hips under my trainer’s instructions.
For its wide-ranging artistic qualities, Tiger Lady can be enjoyed both by adults and older children (it has a 12+ age guidance). I’d be rather surprised if it doesn’t end up touring the UK soon.
Written by: Kasia Zaremba-Byrne and Alex Byrne
Directed by: Kasia Zaremba-Byrne
Produced by: Dead Rabbits Theatre
Tiger Lady played at EdFringe 2022. For further information, check the company’s website here.