Edinburgh Fringe 2022: In PurSUEt at Underbelly, Cowgate
It’s Christmastime and an unnamed woman is passed-out drunk underneath her Christmas tree. When she wakes, she is appalled to find that all of her eyelashes are missing from one eye, but she can’t recall how or when she lost them. “We’ve all been there before, haven’t we?” she asks the therapist to whom she’s been sent for help dealing with the alcohol problem she denies having. As she goes on to detail other drunken nights, Woman’s antics progress from humorous to increasingly disturbing.
Expertly performed by Eleanor Higgins, In PurSUEt is the story of one woman’s descent to rock-bottom. Higgins’s Woman draws audience members into her own denial through her likeability and lighthearted approach to the events of her life. She insists that she does not have a problem and we want to believe her, despite the clear signs contradicting her claim. Her transition from performing comedy to drama is smooth, almost unnoticeable. What begins as harmless, booze-fuelled fun is gradually revealed as something sinister and seemingly inescapable. As Woman’s charisma and liveliness slowly slip away, the darkness hovering behind each of her amusing anecdotes becomes impossible to ignore.
Her alcoholism is mirrored by her obsession with The Great British Bake-Off’s Sue Perkins, as the show’s title cleverly suggests. Her fascination with the TV presenter is portrayed initially as an innocent celebrity crush. Again, she asks, “Haven’t we all had one?”. Yet the intensity of Woman’s captivation is eventually revealed through reenactments of her encounters with Perkins, which she achieves by flat-out stalking, lying and drinking copious amounts of alcohol. Higgins appears as both Woman and Sue in these interactions.
Apart from a life-sized Sue Perkins cardboard cutout, a Christmas tree and a single chair, Higgins is alone onstage. As the sole performer, she carries the show entirely on her back and does so skilfully. In addition to performing Woman and Sue, she also acts the part of several side characters, such as Sue’s much-envied girlfriend and the judgmental hostess of an event for dogs in need. The production’s set-up, in which the audience stands in for Woman’s therapist as the recipient of her questions and stories, makes it impossible not to fully engage with the character and her struggle.
Despite the dark subject matter, In PurSUEt is extremely enjoyable to watch. It is funny as well as heartfelt, covering the serious topics of mental health, addiction and obsession, without leaning into melodrama; Higgins certainly does not take herself too seriously. Yet, having used bits and pieces from her own life to craft the show, her performance brings an element of authenticity that lends it tact. Overall, this is a perfect balance of humour and heartache, drawing out laughs and maybe tears, and ultimately offering up an image of hope in a world where that seems the hardest thing to find.
In PurSUEt is at Underbelly, Cowgate from 17th August until 28th August 2022. For further information or to book visit the festival’s website here.
Watch a trailer for the production here: