Jeu Jeu La Foille’s Frontal Lobotomy sounded like just the thing for that last weekend of the Fringe, when we're all feeling slightly jaded. La Foille describes herself as a maverick burlesque artist – with some justification, as her show also incorporates elements of music, spoken word, and even lecture. It doesn’t quite come off entirely, but it is never less than intriguing.
I loved the opening when, standing with her back to us, she looks at the audience through a mirror. At times I felt she was looking directly at me; it may have been the effect of the mirror, but it was an electrifyingly intimate moment. It also subtly conveyed the message that this was a performer who would look at the world slightly askance, from an oblique angle.
Vicky Hancock as Jeu Jeu La Foille is an utterly compelling artist. As a burlesque performer she has an awareness of how she looks, and is every bit as striking as you'd expect, but she backs this up with an assuredness when speaking to the audience that enables the show to work over the course of an hour. At one point, when she comes into the audience to get one of us to read a brain haiku, she breaks out of character; perhaps that's a mistake, for when that character has been so strong, the effect is somewhat jarring.
As the title suggests, the theme of the show is Frontal Lobotomy surgery, and the impact on the people who were subjected to it. In 1949 the Nobel Prize was awarded its originator, Portuguese neurologist António Egas Moniz, and by the early 1950s it was being performed thousands of times in the US – but following controversy over its impacts (and the introduction of antipsychotic medication), it was quickly abandoned. La Foille covers this story well: the horror of the operation, performed with something akin to an ice-pick and without anaesthetic, its application to people with all kinds of mental disorders from psychosis to anxiety, and its deadening effect – “you won’t know you’re alive”.
However, the focus shifts, and it can be hard to work out where the show is going. It's listed in the Theatre category, so we expect some degree of narrative coherence, but in many ways this was like a greatest-hits album: all the bits were good, but stood alone rather than adding up to a whole. For example, at one point La Foille performs a chilling poem “The One That Got Away” about a girl who avoids assault while walking home at night, but I was left wondering what was its link to the putative theme of Frontal Lobotomies. Perhaps, if the show had been billed as Spoken Word, this variety may have felt more at home.
Although flawed, however, this is a fascinating show full of promise, from a captivating performer. As you would expect from a burlesque artist, it's all done with enormous style… and of course, a modicum of naughtiness.