A fantastic show for those who love seeing tunes on the melodica, inventive crab masks and conspiracy theories abound. Katherine Knight reviews Woman! Pilot! Pirate?

A woman (who may or may not be a pilot) has fallen in love with a man (who may or may not be a voice on the radio)… It’s Woman! Pilot! Pirate? And it’s confusing.

The premise, in theory, is simple – a woman attempts to find the long-lost Amelia Earhart who famously vanished while out at sea. In reality it comes out as something far more confusing than that.

Do you have an earnest desire to hear Pachelbel’s Canon wailed by a woman with a mouth full of desiccated coconut? An odd desire, to be honest, but this will be the show for you.

Woman! Pilot! Pirate? Underbelly Bristo Square

So the script is something of a wild romp – but when this is pulled aside, what remains is some of the finest technical design seen anywhere in the Fringe. While the Amelia Earhart-lookalike is performing with gusto onstage, a variety of instruments are performed by her male counterpart (who may or may not be a radio). Highlights include

  • a loop pedal, which live-records haunting melodies, stumbling over and over one another to haunting effect
  • a strange keyboard with a mouth tube, a.k.a. a melodica

It’s all subtly technical, even when it isn’t taking itself seriously. And there is lighting acumen there, too – the stage is awash with blues and greens and a surprisingly complex wooden outline of a plane.

Woman! Pilot! Pirate? Underbelly Bristo Square

But the script of Woman! Pilot! Pirate? goes completely off the rails. It’s fantastic to watch. However, amongst all the zaniness there is a lack of any defined purpose. Where there could have been a poignant discussion of the personal cost of a quest for something intangible, there is simply a list of conspiracy theories.

In part, this is because the motives of the central characters aren’t made clear. Our heroine’s mission is dogged but obscure, and when she’s given the opportunity to justify her motives in an imaginary award ceremony she instead spouts out half-baked proverbs. She’s certainly invested, but with no idea why on earth she cares.

Woman! Pilot! Pirate? Underbelly Bristo Square

However, the ending that Woman! Pilot! Pirate? eventually builds to – a quiet, heartfelt parting at the eleventh hour – is tender, genuine and heartbreaking. It isn’t a story that makes sense but one to track down for the impressively detailed crab masks. Sometimes that’s enough.

★★★★☆

Murder Ballads is now playing at Greenside @ Nicolson Square until 24 August 2019. For more information or to buy tickets, please visit the festival website.