ER at the Fringe: Evelyn Evelyn
Shed no tear for the freak shows of yore. The politically correct cultural epidemic of this budding millennium won’t let you see one of those any time soon, but cabaret phenomenon Evelyn Evelyn can cure your carny blues. A post-modern traveling show brimming with wonderful weirdness and deadpan irreverence, the double act weaves an atmosphere of tongue-in-cheek oddity so absorbing you won’t miss all the sanitary issues and human rights violations of the real thing.
Just like its protagonists, act and show share the same name. A collaboration between American art-rockers Amanda Palmer (formerly of The Dresden Dolls) and Jason Webley, Evelyn Evelyn tells the convoluted melodrama of two Siamese musical prodigies through a mix of song, storytelling and shadow puppetry.
Deliciously absurd in form and content, the show sees the duo deploy a single pair of hands to play piano, accordion, guitar, ukulele and even drums. The sisters are near autistic (or at least shell-shocked) when silent, but spring to life with every tune. Their rapport is in itself amusing to watch, and also forms the basis for ingenious stunts like the aforementioned puppet play and a comic oracular segment where the Evelyns take turns to improvise answers, word by word, to preposterous existential questions.
Though the gimmicks are brilliant, the songs remain the star of the evening. Palmer and Webley’s compositions balance old-world rhythms with the melodic simplicity of pop music, yielding cohesive results that resemble a fairy-tale Tom Waits. Some are beautifully melancholic, like the title track, a murmuring lament in waltz time. Elephant Elephant, by contrast, embraces nonsense with shamelessly heavy-handed attempts to rhyme with the title (and kazoo breaks to underline its seriousness). Escalating into a frantic stampede of accordion and drums, Chicken Man wouldn’t be out of place in a regular rock gig.
In true cabaret fashion, Evelyn Evelyn features a compère to announce and eulogize the reticent musical wonders. Underground experimental musician Thomas Truax rounds up the bill as a sideshow-announcer figure constantly dragging the shy twins back onstage. Truax’s performance, however, is hesitant and unconvincing enough to be distracting, putting a conspicuous dent in the show’s otherwise neat and coherent aesthetic.
Their billing as ‘the world’s only conjoined-twin singer-songwriter duo’ is certainly misleading (the Evelyns are clearly unacquainted with London’s Janus Sisters), but that is of little consequence. Entertaining and original, they blend music and theatre like no other act in the current variety boom. As much for its star power as for the goods they back it up with, Evelyn Evelyn is the must-see cabaret show of this year’s Fringe. Don’t despair if you fail to grab one of the much disputed tickets for their limited Edinburgh run, though: they’re a traveling show after all, and one known to tour both sides of the Atlantic.
Evelyn Evelyn. Conceived and performed by Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley. Assembly George Square, Edinburgh. 17-21 August, 21:10. £12-13. www.evelynevelyn.com
Photo by Scott Irvine