Enjoy the Edinburgh Fringe remotely with Gilded Balloon’s Coronalogues
Karen and Katy Koren’s Gilded Balloon would have celebrated its 35th year at the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe Festival, but have reorganised into a series of events, entitled Gilded Balloon Retro, to provide audiences with art during these strange new times.
All five audio chapters of The Coronalogues have been written by stand-up comedian Keir McAllister and recorded during lockdown. Making waves with his comedy, he has twice been the finalist for the Scottish Comedian of the Year award. A creative talent bursting with ideas, McAllister has written for the likes of BBC’s Mock the Week and Channel 4’s Stand Up for the Week.
Chapter One’s Poor Wullie tells the story of a grouchy 75-year-old ex-smoker adjusting to life in lockdown. Wullie doesn’t believe life will bring him good anymore, and has settled with his lot. Believing the coronavirus is karma for the mess humans have made, he’s used to the habit of shopping early morning as he has done for the past three years. Shopkeeper Jean (JoJo Sutherland) thinks him a sad old man; in return, he thinks she’s a cow, though she offers to drop his items off when her shift ends. Wullie has lost his wife, but he says it’s not the fact he’s alone that affects him, it’s that no one cares. He refers to this aloneness as “self-isolating”, so he can’t comprehend the concern around the virus. He likes his own company, doesn’t relate to the younger generation and hasn’t involved himself with the neighbours who moved in recently, criticising them for being hippies. The actors in this piece have particularly thick Scots accents and it’s sometimes very challenging to understand everything that is being said, therefore losing meaning, making it possibly the weakest of all the dramas.
Jigsaw Puzzle takes us into the mind of Rhona (Megan Shandley), who is in a serious relationship, but beginning to question it. She does this by referencing stand-up comic Daniel Sloss, who has an episode on Netflix from which this chapter takes its name. According to Rhona, couples have edged towards breaking up because of the truths Sloss exposes through his comedy. She decides to end her relationship with boyfriend Aidan – who she also voices. The humour McAllister uses here reads like a chick-lit novel, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Shandley evokes the complexities in Rhona’s relationship well, alongside the varying thoughts and emotions she experiences. Her plan to go to Spain falls flat as the coronavirus hits Europe, and it is then that she realises her boyfriend never really understood things were ending. His shakes had been symptoms of the disease, which he passes on to her. Though the piece is sometimes funny, it remains grounded in lockdown experiences, and the effects it’s had on relationships and people’s mental health.
Waiting for Marvel tells of an expectant father waiting to meet his son. He goes through many emotions, which Cal MacAninch portrays with pathos and realism, his character’s passions and anxieties for the arrival of his child palpable. The baby is a product of IVF, and one can really hear his earnestness and the arduousness of the whole process. To make things even harder, the child is due on the day lockdown is introduced. Although eager to meet his boy, he just wants the baby to arrive when it’s ready, and as safely as possible.
The relationship between a son, Alexander, and his recently deceased father carries us through the next chapter, cleverly named A Frank Proposal; the father’s friend Frank offers an irresistible, albeit illegal, proposition. Rosco McClelland does a great job of portraying the young man as well as voicing tough drug dealer Frank; the former is a wedding musician facing the moral dilemma. When the coronavirus hits, he is grateful for the money accrued for doing the job. Evoking Trainspotting, by fellow Scotsman Irvine Welsh, MacAllister depicts contemporary urban life with flair and a witty sense of humour steeped in realism.
And last but certainly not least, we have Standing Ovation. It revolves around an NHS nurse working on the front line who is appalled at how lightly people are taking the pandemic. She is also disgusted at the continual racial prejudice her colleagues face at the hands of patients. There are many topics MacAllister covers here, like the looming privatisation of the NHS, which the nurse aptly remarks on, noticing that some politicians declare their love for the service but are simultaneously making huge budget cuts. She comments on how if the NHS becomes privatised the UK will follow in the footsteps of the USA, where having a baby costs $10,000 and just holding your child afterwards costs $40. Her cynicism is reasonable, and Shauna MacDonald voices the concerns of this exhausted and distressed young woman excellently. One of the strongest pieces, if not the strongest, Standing Ovation reminds us of the nurses and doctors working tirelessly to keep the nation safe. The nurse wonders: “When did our national health service require 100-year- old men to do laps of their garden to fund it?” She has a point, and isn’t trying to downplay what both real army veteran Sir Thomas Moore and Dobirul Chowdhray have achieved, but is instead worried about the state of the NHS and the government’s lax movements in continuing to keep it free for everyone.
The themes that course through the pieces tell of the effects of Covid-19, as well as the ways in which people cope. MacAllister shows us the varying lives of his characters on one street in Edinburgh, and should be commended for the breadth of the stories, complimented by gorgeous original music from Dave Be Mac.
The Coronalogues is available to listen to online and on streaming services now. For further information visit Gilded Balloon’s website here.