“We’re all gonna die, Amadeus” – I saw Fran and Leni at Edinburgh Fringe

I didn’t know much about Fran and Leni, going in. I mentally labeled it “the play my boyfriend wants to see” – female punk duo sounded right enough for my feminist sensibilities, so I didn’t put up a fight (I’ve learnt that in Edinburgh we either have to go our separate ways or learn compromise – by now, he’d stopped saying “poetry isn’t my thing” whenever he goes to a poetry event with me! RESULT). I had a vague idea that I’d wind up listening to the history of British punk for the rest of they day, seeing as 1. I’m not British, so I don’t know every single detail of British music scene, nevermind punk specifically 2. My boyfriend is a giant music nerd (sorry, aficionado), and he bestows the gems of his knowledge upon me, regardless of time of day/night, current conversation topic or my general willingness. ANYWAY.

Here is what I didn’t know:

1. Fran and Leni (a.k.a. The Rips) are not a real band.

2. The punk band functions as a plot device/context that allows for telling a story of women in the 70s/women in the music industry without being constrained by actual biographies (but close enough to them, most likely – GET BOYFRIEND TO CONFIRM THAT)

3. The documentary vibe of the play, with pre-recorded “punk interviews” will make this band sound very real indeed

4. By the end of the play I’d wish they were real so I could read Leni’s book.

Here’s the premise: two girls. One young, foul-mouthed and bold, one piano-playing, music-dreaming and older. One with nothing to lose and one made to work as a secretary, because for girls, music is only a hobby. Abusive circumstances, substance abuse, girls against the world, going it alone, finding yourself without role models because no women have done this before. Screaming punk which is actually poetry. Which is actually getting yourself a voice, getting a life.

The plot follows a chronological timeline (meet up in school, have music career, fall apart, meet up after the years), but at the same time, more and more is revealed about the characters’ background. When they meet as adult women, on Leni’s book launch, they see each other, and themselves, more clearly – and they allow the audience the same. The further we go, the more we understand why they were who they were, did what they did. And what they leave us is the impression of incredible courage it took – to put away everything that “female” meant and forge your own path out of horrible circumstances. All that is sprinkled with dark humour, toughness (because if you can’t handle your own life, who can?) and metaphors that take you by surprise. The attention to detail creates the poetry in the play – small things. Buying a scarf in a charity shop. Listening to favourite music. Your best friend calling you Amadeus, a genius nickname, because geniuses are men and you were both called something flowery, feminine and altogether ill-fitting.

Fran and Leni may have not existed, but they’re real enough. They were real enough to make me and my boyfriend cry; real enough to have a poster; real enough to have badges with quotes that will stay with me. The punk scream of this play is the most real thing of all. Because we’re all gonna die, Amadeus. So we might as well go loud…

Fran and Leni, Assembly George Square Theatre — The Box. 15:05

Presented by: Old Trunk Theatre

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