The question of identity and a search for meaning are recurring themes at the Fringe, just as they are in life. Here, fortyish-something psychology graduate Helen Wood shares her journey, fulfilling her ambition to bring a one-woman show to Edinburgh. She’s inspired, she says, by an entreaty to begin “whatever you can do or dream you can” – words famously attributed to Goethe.
It’s no surprise to learn that Wood has been a teacher; she begins by setting out her objective, and letting us know what to expect from the sixty minutes we’ve signed up for. Audience members will be led to ponder the same question she has, namely, “What kind of fool am I?” A wooden door, symbolic of entrance to this exploration, doubles up as a sort of flip chart, as she tears off Velcro-held strips to reveal a bullet-point list of personality types enumerated during her presentation.
Wood’s show is essentially well-constructed and well-thought-through, with a succession of props used to signify the steps on her journey of self-discovery. There’s more than a fair chance that similarly-aged women in the audience will recognise the landmarks along the way, ranging from practicing meditation, through reading a series of well-known self-help books like The Secret and The Road Less Travelled, to going on a retreat in the Spanish Alpujarras Mountains.
There are also era-specific cultural references to identify with: Wood dons a curly perm wig symbolic of the eighties, while well-chosen clips of music serve as reminders of growing up during the same period, including London Calling and Enya.
But there’s an important difference between a well-delivered presentation and a show. For all Wood’s confident and ebullient delivery, there’s nothing remarkable about her journey – no transformative message. Her humorous slant is often clever, but it’s also contrived and doesn’t always ring true.
And her “awakening” to her personality type (enthusiastic) – one of nine according to the Enneagram theory she fortuitously stumbles upon – is a weak conclusion. I say that because there’s a raw and moving moment at the heart of this otherwise light-hearted show when Wood reveals that her brother took his own life. In this disclosure, Wood shows an honesty that eclipses the rest of her rather jolly delivery, remarking that the impact on her was at least to decide to be happy. And this, I think, is the truly meaningful message I’ll be taking away.