Shelf @ Pleasance Courtyard

The debut Edinburgh Fringe hour from Shelf is a self-assured show which focuses on gender identity and expression

Review by Emma Sullivan | 09 Aug 2022
  • Shelf

Shelf is a double act between best friends, Rachel and Ruby, both of whom now present as androgynous (they identify as she/they; comparisons with the scrappy kids from The Goonies come up a lot, apparently). However, it transpires that Ruby’s non-binary expression is a relatively recent development. In their assured and very funny debut show Hair, we’re presented with a photo of the two – Rachel entirely unchanged with boyish clothes and short hair, and Ruby as they were: feminine and long-haired. The show relates the results of their social experiment in gender; Rachel is the control, having remained unchanged their whole life, and Ruby the variable.

The duo’s back and forth is beautifully easy, with the irrepressibly bouncy Rachel playing off the more laconic Ruby. As the narrative progresses through a series of songs, we hear about Rachel’s obliviousness to school bullying, her sublime self-confidence transforming all gender hostility to widespread lust. ‘Murder John’ continues the theme of happy obliviousness, mocking Rachel’s lack of radar for dodgy men.

Ruby, meanwhile, struggles with femininity. They’re drawn to ‘masculine’ activities (skateboarding, videogames, not talking about emotions) but aware of the fine line between ‘sexy’ masculine (i.e. doing it to attract boys) and the less socially acceptable ‘gay’ masculine (i.e. doing it for the sheer pleasure of it); from the age of 10, she has used a weekly quota of dress-wearing to stay on the right side of the line. 

Some of these experiences don’t feel quite rooted (possibly because of the mismatch between the duo’s accents, which they do address, there is a slightly generic sense of place) but Shelf's material is clearly strong. The show feels like an excellent use of the stand-up form; the perfect space in which to play with and investigate gender conventions.

Shelf: Hair, Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three), until 28 Aug (not 17), 7.15pm, £9-11