“A relatable, heartfelt, grounded perspective into a transitional period in one person’s life…

Margot, the protagonist and sole character in “Sit Or Kneel”, first mentions the title’s ritual phrase about ten minutes in. It is a courtesy statement at the beginning of a sermon rendered futile, on account of the average listener being positively prehistoric and as such unable to “kneel” if they tried. In doing so, Margot sets the tone for the play: that of a study – brimming in cynical wit and touching observation – of a person shrouded with self-doubt and self-loathing in a job (or “calling” on more optimistic days) that somehow feels both alienating in its uniqueness and unfulfilling in its familiarity.

Mimi-Nation Dixon, writer and performer, is superb in portraying this vulnerability and doubt, creating what could be considered a strange alternative-universe Fleabag, where its equivalent to Andrew Scott’s “Hot Priest” is the focus, and a sardonically funny one at that. In one-person shows, the natural pitfall is to overdo the snarky anecdotes and insults to generate interest, often to the detriment of the narrator themselves, leaving a bitter, unsympathetic character whose jibes start to become jarring. However, Nation-Dixon’s naturalistic shifts between eclectic raconteur and flawed but well-intentioned human being mean we the audience are carried along each step of her journey, made to care about small events as much as the big ones. For an experience that very few (if any) of us can relate to, Margot’s plight manages to be relatable – perhaps due to the range of emotions Nation-Dixon navigates, but moreso in my view due to Margot’s observational qualities. Through creative metaphors and similes about tides, ships, and pigeons, Margot paints a world where she is just a part of the picture, an observer as much as a participant, despite the story being all about her. As such, the show never feels narcissistic, nor self-aggrandising. Rather, moments of snark from Margot are often juxtaposed with absurd decisions or awkward impulses: from pouring fairy liquid on cake to claiming her uncle founded the bible. All this serves to make a likeable and thorough character.

The writing is the primary reason behind this. Despite only one woman ever making it on stage, the host of different characters we meet all have a distinct voice with flaws of their own, even if only given the backseat for a few minutes. Margot’s call with her city-slicker friend who’s moved to Zone 3 London and is trying, in their own way, to make the best of their new life’s quirks and absence, is particularly catching. So is the call with her absent, resentful parents who, in a fascinating break from stereotype, do not approve of their child’s faith. However, this call does come too late in the show, following on from Margot explicitly outlining the ins and outs of her relationship with her parents. Whilst her tragic past is well built from implication to exposition throughout the show, this particular relationship would have benefited from being gradually laid out in a similar way. Furthermore, whilst the pacing of the phone call sections were near-perfect – long enough to be meaningful but not so long the audience forgets about the call entirely – other points in the show suffered from one-note pacing. Nation-Dixon successfully navigates changes in tone, from confident to doubtful, elated to downtrodden, but all this is done very fast, manic at points, with the only noticeable, powerful pauses being in scene transitions that perhaps went on a little too long. It was the first performance in this space so I anticipate these will speed up as time goes on, but nevertheless, the blackouts in total silence felt awkward and as such distracted from the energy established in the scene prior. Considering music was used to great effect at other points in the show by the Director Jennifer Lafferty, it seems a strange choice to embrace silence and darkness here whilst rushing past it at other points in the show.

Nevertheless, the strength of the writing and acting by Nation-Dixon makes that immediately forgettable as soon as the new scene begins. ‘Sit or Kneel’ is a relatable, heartfelt, grounded perspective into a transitional period in one person’s life, with enough bible to entertain those raised on it, but not too much to alienate ardent atheists in the crowd. And, most importantly, enough humanity to appeal to any audience member who decides to sit down with Margot for the better part of an hour, hoping the late-onset Christmas cheer will make Edinburgh’s inexplicably wintery weather feel more enjoyable.

By Horatio Hollaway

“Sit or Kneel” will continue to perform from the 16th to the 26th of August at 14:50 in V45 – theSpace at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Photo Credits: “Sit or Kneel”