This quiet but powerful show, conceived and performed by Casey Jay Andrews, is unlike most that you'll find at the Edinburgh Fringe. The venue is intimate – literally a garden shed – with just half-a-dozen audience members sitting around a table, alongside Andrews herself. And it's emotionally intimate too, exploring feelings of grief and helplessness which we often try to conceal. There is no room to hide anything in this tiny space… and as Andrews plays recordings of women telling stories of loss, she offers gentle permission to feel the emotions some of us habitually suppress.
The women we hear all have breast cancer, or love someone who does; and in her own narrative, Andrews explains why that particular topic is so close to her heart. But the themes she explores are more universal than that bald statement suggests. This is a parable about life before death, about coping with the knowledge that your time may soon be up – or that the same thing will happen to someone you care about. As we listen to the women explain their experience, Andrews gently lays photographs on the small table in front of us; a reminder that these are real people and real stories, conveying both real tragedy and a real determination to make the best of the hand life has dealt.
The intimate space – crowded and communal, but not claustrophobic – is packed with vintage memorabilia, setting the scene for a celebration of lives lived and stories told. Ordinarily, such a busy set would risk distracting from the performance itself, yet Andrews' delivery is so comforting and compelling that all attention naturally focusses on her. Against such a beautifully evocative backdrop, however, the glowing iPad (which Andrews uses to control the lights and recordings) does jar. If this piece has a future life, perhaps she'll find a way at least to hide the screen, the more to preserve the contemplative mood.
Interspersed with the women's own stories, we hear quotes from a book – Have You An Educated Heart? – which sits in pride of place in the centre of the shed. An "educated heart", as the book defines it, is one which both understands and seeks understanding from others; one that's self-aware enough to recognise feelings, but not so self-conscious that it refuses to reveal them. Andrews gently relates passages from the book to her own story, tying together the disparate narratives into a personal tale which she, and only she, is qualified to tell.
It all adds up to a dignified but profoundly moving experience, both for me and – very clearly – for most of those who clustered into the shed to experience it alongside me. Whether there's a lasting message to it, I'm a little less sure; the underpinning concept of "the educated heart" is lost a little amidst the raw emotion. It spoke a great deal to me at the time, and I remembered enough to Google it when I got home, but it turns out the book's out of print and so the trail goes cold. If there's improvement to be made to Andrews' show, then I think it's here – drawing out that idea of being emotionally open, and shaping it into a lesson for our daily lives.
But in another way, it's right and proper that this piece doesn't leave too much behind – because there is a time for grief, and then there is a time to move on. What happens in the shed is cathartic, and I feel my eyes prickling in remembrance even as I write this now. But then it is over, and we step back into the light… reminded that life is precious, and ready to make the most of our own.