BY TIG SAVAGE
IMAGES BY ELE BERRIE
“I used to dream I would wake up and finally be a girl”
Originally intended as a simple tribute to some of his favourite female singer-songwriters, Paul Diello’s spell-binding show Epicene, is a hell of a ride through a non-binary experience of growing up in a largely small-minded and bigoted town. His tragi-comedic early attempts at being a girl; falling in love with and repeatedly avoiding being bashed by straight guys; forming strong and lasting friendships and eventually finding acceptance from his community and himself.
Considering the depth of the subject and the sadness and anger engendered by some of the anecdotes, Epicene remains a highly amusing show. The humour, pathos and gender politics create an entertaining collaboration with the flawless harmonies, stagecraft and musicianship. The audience is carried through Diello’s life whilst equally transported into that place we go to when music becomes all that there is. Despite eliciting many feels and a lot of laughter, the anecdotes are short and segue seamlessly to the songs.
The show is lightly sprinkled with important quotes from artists such as Patti Smith, PJ Harvey and Joni Mitchell and more, quotes that encourage later discussion on women in the public eye and gender politics.
The audience is treated to a high-energy and joyfully camp guest appearance from Marta Scott (more details would spoil the surprise); a beautiful a capella and completely acoustic number from Paul and the backing vocalists (this is sung in the aisle so the audience feels wrapped in harmony) and many other moments where Diello and his musicians create the best possible conditions for this exciting ride.
Every aspect of the staging has been considered. Every member of the band takes and holds their space. Anywhere the eye wanders, it will fall upon a professional and present performer. The violin solo from Tessa Gilles during Glory Box is a stand out moment, as is the utterly sultry stage lighting for that same song; the arrangement of ‘Cornflake Girl’ has one believing there are more voices than singers and Diello’s interpretation of ‘White Rabbit’ is powerful, with its hypnotic backline, the tight harmonies and the perfect place it holds in the story.
The musicians have a wonderful rapport with each other. It is a rare treat to watch a Fringe performance where talent, hard work and fun all visibly pay off on stage. Epicene is that rarity.
This is a show that caused discussion on the walk from the theatre to the station, on the train home and after work the next day. Long may this discussion continue.
Book it. Go and see it. Take your nan.