The vintage summer-coloured VW camper van parked up outside The Junction is both the setting and the subject of Laura Mugridge’s endearing, Fringe First-winning solo show.
After laying down a welcome mat, Mugridge invites her audience of five to join her inside the van, a wedding present, which she has christened ‘Joni’. Once nestled inside, behind floral curtains, tasks are assigned. One woman is charged with map reading; I am designated DJ, perched in the passenger seat with a box of cassette tapes in my lap; someone else is tasked with standing in for her husband Tom (in this instance, in a moment of sweet serendipity given the nature of his own solo work, the role is assigned to Hoipolloi’s Shon Dale-Jones).
What follows is slight but steeped in charm; and though the van never moves, a journey is taken, in more ways than one. Drawing on personal experiences, Mugridge describes a mishap-strewn road trip through Scotland: fan belts melted, tears were shed. As she tells her story she explores what it is to be young, newly married and uncertain, to strive to be a Barbara when really (and despite the Wellington boots) you’re more of a Margo, and to have an urge to perform that’s too strong to ignore but to also crave your home whenever you’re away from it. While the tone of all this is almost relentlessly gentle, it also contains something rare and warm and rather lovely.
The cramped nature of the space creates an immediate sense of intimacy between Mugridge and her audience, something she emphasises by addressing everyone by name and inviting us to jam along with her using kitchen implements and toothbrushes. She then takes us on a ‘drive’ around Cornwall, with winding country roads – and the occasional farmer – projected on the windshield. If there is a definite tilt towards the whimsical in her material (she sometimes speaks to Joni in French), it’s countered by her elegance of expression and her open performance style.
Half way through and reality intrudes in the form of Cambridge’s delinquent element, slamming their palms on the windows and generally being obnoxious; the interruption is too sustained to ignore but Mugridge handles the situation incredibly well. She swiftly pulls the piece back together and, if anything, this rude intrusion only strengthens the feeling of friendliness and connection inside the confines of the camper van. The urge to give her a hug is considerable.
This particular performance will probably not be remembered favourably by Mugridge but, in a way she couldn’t have wanted or intended, the unwelcome interjection of the real actually made more explicit the strengths of her show. A road was travelled; Mugridge met the challenge and came through it and her small audience left the van feeling moved and uplifted.
For tour dates and more information, visit Laura Mugridge’s website.