Based on a true story from a seedier part of Edinburgh’s past, Salamander at Assembly Roxy brings light, wit, and poetic passion to a complicated and fascinating story.
The backdrop for the play is the unsolved murder of a sex worker in Salamander Court, Leith, Edinburgh. In response, the police appoint a (jokingly labelled) “prostitute liaison officer” who, accompanied by a faithful churchgoer, meets regularly with a group of sex workers where they offer support, find out information on the trade, and… talk about poetry.
The script is sharp, with a distinctly Scottish comedic voice. This wit makes the events that take place all the more gut-wrenching. The poetry and music are particularly moving, and are a great vehicle for the co-writer and actor Mhairi McCalls to show her strengths.
The characters are complex, distinct, and excellently embodied by the performers. The audience is shown the many nuances of why people may choose or be forced to choose sex work. At times the script did not give V, the matriarch of the group, the prowess and power that it was suggested she had, but the contrasts and parallels between her and the police officer’s relationships with their kids was an excellent device.
The character Joan was an audience favourite. Her depth, comic timing, and character arc were incredibly satisfying. If a longer version of the play was produced, her story could be explored in further detail. In general, there are many moving parts to this show, and limited to an hour in a typical Fringe slot, it’s hard to fully explore all of them. It would have also been interesting to further explore the dynamic of the police wanting to help the sex workers, while (and by) trying to get information from them, which the ladies were reluctant to provide. This dynamic was an enjoyable source of tension in the show, and reminded the audience of the complicated relationships that likely still exist today.
The Fringe’s ability to attract acts and performers from all around the world is unique. At the same time, it is such a joy to be able to say that one of the boldest, funniest, and most compelling stories that is being performed at the Fringe is written, produced, and performed by an Edinburgh-based company. Pretty Knickers Production has done the city proud.