For those who wander from the Royal Mile to Edinburgh’s New Town, past the crumbling St James’ Shopping Centre and in the direction of Leith, the Fringe can start to feel a bit far away. There are no flyers being handed out, fewer posters and not as many venues. That is not to say that the Fringe does not spill over to the other side of the city. There is, in fact, one very good reason why the less obvious venues in this part of the city should be sought out: Bat-El Papura.
Bat-El is, in her own words, a ‘tiny’ person – she is 48 inches tall – born in Soviet Romania, but has lived most of her life in Israel. As she talks, sings and dances for the audience, Bat-El uses her show to deliver empowering messages of body confidence. She makes no attempt to hide the fact that there were some difficult times growing up, but the focus is very much on finding humour in her early life and her dream of becoming an actress. Those watching cannot help but smile, revelling in Bat-El’s infectious personality as she moves around the stage with incredible confidence and a zest for life.
As would be expected with more than 300 performances under her belt in the last two years, on top of numerous guest lectures and interviews, she most definitely has something to say. Bat-El tells her story with an incredible vividness, accounting for every detail she can possibly think of. While the changes from topic to topic may make it slightly hard to follow chronologically for some people, each story on its own is a fascinating insight into her life. It’s not always positive, understandably, but Bat-El never lets her stories slip into overwhelming negativity and sadness. I am Bat-El is more likely to trigger tears of laughter than tears of sadness or pity.
Nor does she want any pity. Because the one thing that is clear from the offset is that Bat-El is not after sympathy or support. The show is all about letting her personality shine through as she documents her life, letting her passion for performing and being on stage burst out. She barely ever stops smiling, and always keeps her eyes on the audience, which has the effect of making her storytelling just so welcoming. It is an incredibly happy experience to be part of the audience.
The musical numbers help to maintain a light-hearted atmosphere, and make it much clearer as to why I am Bat-El is under the ‘Cabaret and Variety’ section in the Fringe guide. Bat-El lets herself off the chain as she sings her heart out, and combines this with some incredible dancing and movement around the stage. It is often breath-taking, certainly uplifting and always engaging.
There is no better reason to be liberated from the bustling crowds and noise of Edinburgh’s Old Town than to see a twenty-nine year-old woman tell her amazing story in a way deliberately designed to incite joy and inspiration. It is a performance from the heart, for the heart. Bat-El is bursting with energy and passion as she lets her dream come true before your very eyes.
I am Bat-El
Greenside @ Royal Terrace (Venue 231)
Until 26th August (not 20th).
Image: Avishag Shaar Yashuv / Yedioth Ahronoth