4 stars ****
Underbelly Cowgate (Venue 61)
WHAT IS clean and what is dirty? asks the Fringe pogramme entry for Sanitise, at the Underbelly; and for a sharp, witty and vivid one-hour analysis of our society’s neurotic relationship with the very idea of filth, you’re unlikely to do better than this new piece of wordless drama co-created by performer Melanie Jordan and young Edinburgh director Caitlin Skinner. Our heroine arrives in the room wincing at the hideous grubbiness of the world outside her home, advances onto a stage entirely occupied by a shining white bathroom, and starts – almost ecstatically – to clean invisible spots of dirt from the gleaming porcelain, while stroking it with unconcealed passion.
As her fondest imaginings appear in animations projected onto the shower-curtain, though, we begin to realise that there are stormy depths beneath her prim exterior; notably a passion for an office colleague called John which causes her to keep a mouldy old sandwich of his as a souvenir, and a level of frustration, following the apparent failure of their relationship, that moves her to send off via Amazon for a Madam Whiplash outfit, complete with scarlet basque, whip, and dizzyingly high-heeled red shoes.
Even that, though, fails to fill the gap in our heroine’s life; and after a flirtation with a hideous growth of mould beneath the bath, she descends into an orgy of self-disgust, reflected in ever more dramatic and starting projected images. Her story remains unresolved, of course; but this elegant little show, performed by Jordan with unfailing grace, wit and skill, raises some key questions about how we can possibly fulfil our need for a bit of old-fashioned filth and spontaneity, in a society where everything has to be sanitised and sealed off from the hazards of human touch – including, perhaps, even sex itself.