There is a meagre, solitary space at the top of all the Gilded Balloon's stairs, a room called The Turret, which, in spite of all its fun and colourful signage, reeks of danger. There is something abjectly foreboding about passing through those doors, as if you might candidly step on a dragon's tail or hear the lock turn sharply behind you. Anything could happen here.
But as fairytales have told us, the rarest, most precious things come hand in hand with peril, and this forsaken turret is where you have to go to claim what must be one of this year's Fringe's most special treasures.
Richard Fry is a little known actor whose portfolio counts just a handful of low key TV and film roles. The only evidence of his leanings as a writer comes in the form of homemade videos on his MySpace page that point more to a Sunday hobby than a serious pursuit. And before drama became his thing at age 30 he earned his bread collecting bins and chopping wood. But don't be fooled by the signs, Bully is top-drawer theatre that extravagantly belies his apparent inexperience.
It's a monologue in verse about the cycle of violence, told through the story of a boy who grows up learning that all humans fall into one of two discrete categories: bullies and victims. A taste for malice haunts the males of his bloodline and has vampyrically passed from grandfather to father to first-born son with the exactitude of clockwork. Playing the part of the timid younger brother and spanning his life from tragic childhood to tainted adulthood, Fry chants the inner afflictions of a well-meaning soul who tries to escape the cycle by becoming a sufferer. But can he ultimately curb his fall from grace and defy the cruel gods that be?
This is very different from the reinforced steel theatre of the Traverse kind. This is one man with a chair in a turret, with no resources other than his own sharp tongue to convey what is revealed to be a deeply moving and edifying study of the human condition. The sincere, eloquent rendering of a timeless theme brings to mind Greek tragedy in all its sturdiness, with the poetry ever-pleasing, never standing out as a forceful flourish. You will admire his art, his wit and his verbal dexterity, and be thrilled by the frequently vulgar, slang-addled story. Bully is a mesmerising experience and a most exemplary Fringe monologue. (Fest Magazine - August 2009)
If you can imagine a cross between Shakespeare's poetry and The Mighty Boosh's story telling style, then you might be somewhere close to the style in which this incredibly sad and moving story is told. To start with, you might not notice that the story is told in rhymes, but when you do realise, it adds extra charm to the show. The verse brilliantly conveys this story of growing up with domestic violence, homosexuality and grief, and with humour thrown into the mix, it is possible to be on the verge of tears one moment and then laughing the next. Let Richard Fry take you in and you will feel the tears rolling down your cheeks within no time. (Three Weeks)
If it were possible to just write "See this now" as a review for this show I would. It seems strange to try find words to describe an experience that leaves you shaking afterwards. Richard Fry is such a mesmerising performer that you feel like you've just read his diary and re-experienced the emotion he felt writing it.
He plays a young man, recounting the neglect of his childhood, his awakening realisation that he is gay and the torment and victimisation that he suffered throughout. This is all recounted in verse, with both cutting humour and mind-rocking humiliations. The beauty of the writing is such that you hardly notice that Fry is speaking in rhyme and, when you do, it adds such a powerful dimension of honesty and thought that it's spellbinding. And the spell's never broken with Fry's phenomenal performance.
An unparalleled experience of which it is only worth saying "See this now"! (British Theatre Guide)
The worst bullies are those that have been bullied themselves. But at what point do the tables turn? How much can one person take before they snap? Bully is a one man show that journeys through the life of a man taunted and mocked at every turn for being that little bit different. It becomes obvious early on that Richard Fry's comment that "life hasn't exactly dealt me a winning hand" is something of an understatement. Fry has a captivating talent at story- telling, taking on the role of his own character from childhood through to adulthood, as well as conveying with incredible vividness everyone else who features in this ill-fated man's life. The ability of one performer to hold an audience's attention alone for a whole hour, his only prop being a chair, is nothing short of outstanding, yet Fry seems to do so with a natural ease. Part verse and part prose means the pace is constantly changing, and the audience caught up in the same emotional rollercoaster as the character. It's funny, gripping and at times downright depressing, but makes for compelling viewing. (Edinburgh Evening News)
Richard Fry's performance of his verse play is absorbing. His low key, measured style draws you in as the story unfolds. The verse format adds to the tension helping to construct mental images of his descriptions. The language is clear and direct.
Bully is the story a young man's experience of life from early childhood to early adulthood. He has had to endure the depths; an abusive father, the death of his mother and homophobia at school. Nevertheless, there were times of great happiness; pleasant experiences with his loving mother and the joy of finding a relationship which may offer some security in his chaotic lifestyle.
All his life he has known violence and, as the play comes to a conclusion, it appears he can never break free from this curse.
The play has such a range of qualities. It is dramatic, moving, funny and realistic. (one4review.com)
"I don't like small rooms!" is the first line of this beautifully performed one-man show from Richard Fry. Me neither.
Fry takes us on a journey through the life of a man who has been a victim all his life. Based partly on Fry's own life, it begins from very early childhood, and the shocking revelation that the character's bullying alcoholic father threw him against a wall when he was two, breaking his shoulder. This sets a life pattern, and he is also eventually a victim of violence and homophobic abuse from his formerly close older brother, pupils at his school and eventually, his lover.
This is no mere monologue. It's written in a mixture of verse styles, from iambic pentameter to rap. Some of the rhyming stuff jangles a bit, but some of it is very exciting and often lyrical. Neither is it a totally sombre piece. There's much humour, and Fry delivers it with the dead pan timing of an accomplished stand- up. Some of it, and the anecdotes that inspire it, is very dark humour indeed. "Thank God for epilepsy!" is one punch line. And when his first boyfriend is stolen from him by his 'fag hag' who he knows was badly sexually abused by her family as a child, his retort is to tell her that the boy looks like her uncle.
The 'fag hag' diatribe elsewhere in the play is slightly disturbing. Fry makes much play (and laughter) out of the fact that all women who hang around gay men and gay clubs only do it because they are fat and ugly. As well as being untrue, the vitriol and venom with which he spits this section out makes him as big a bully and bigoted as the characters who have oppressed him down the years. Fry is not playing himself, but a character, and I guess the fact we don't like every aspect of that character makes it well-rounded.
Well worth a look... informative and moving. Hearty and generous. (www.broadwaybaby.com)
It sounds grim, it is grim, but it is made by a bravura performance from Fry, who has a lightness of touch which belies the subject matter. A late recruit to the profession, Richard Fry is emerging as a very substantial performer indeed. He has written this in verse, which gives it a strong rhythm. He is a storyteller, with a harrowing story to tell.
A bare stage, a single chair and a solo performance leave him nowhere to hide. The subject matter is tough and uncompromising, leaving no room for sentimentality. But it is to the great credit of Fry that he held the audience absolutely focussed throughout the piece, and the extended applause showed the appreciation of his penmanship, and his stagecraft.
His piece addresses issues around abuse and domestic violence. It poses questions about cycles of violence across generations, the waste of brutalised lives it leaves in its wake. It addresses personal violence and abuse in gay relationships, and shows the parallels with more traditional accounts of heterosexual abuse.
Richard Fry has given voice to those normally only talked about. It is a voice which needs and deserves to be heard. (www.fringereview.com)
THE STAGE - MUST SEE Bully is about one man's journey from childhood to adulthood. He tells us, in verse, about the violence he encounters from some of his family members and other pupils at school as he's growing up. We hear of the beatings his mother took from his father. Davey shares the good times he spent with his mother and older brother. On what started out as a happy occasion full of joy and excitement it gets shattered quite suddenly. Things now can only get worse. Gaining financial independence means Davey can leave home. On reaching adulthood he searches for the man of his dreams and despite his violent upbringing he is determined not to repeat the cycle. That is until...'
I really enjoyed this hard-hitting verse drama written and performed by Richard Fry. His choice of words, range of emotions (yes, there is also humour) and performance along with subject matter all make for a very engrossing hour. An hour that goes too fast for my liking. I could have stayed and listened to more.
The audience were gripped by the story he was laying out in front of them. And who wouldn't be? Scotsgay
Though I typically try to avoid one-man shows in Edinburgh (where there are far, far too many of them), it was the venue PR that steered me to Bully at the Gilded Balloon, and it gave me new faith in the form as its writer-performer Richard Fry steered a darkly poignant tale of violent abuse, both growing up and coming of age as a gay man in unhealthy domestic partnerships. Fry - whom the press notes say only came to acting at the age of 30, after a string of jobs 'as a bin man, market trader and wood cutter' - apparently drew on some of his own experiences, but not (fortunately) all; his play mines a vivid imaginative current that connects the actor directly with his audience in a way that makes him seem genuinely vulnerable and heartfelt, yet some of it, at least, is purely imagined (or he wouldn't be with us here today). But he acts it with such delicate understatement that you believe every second of it. I have had many other pleasures (and some not), over the weekend - but the joys of encountering new talents like Richard Fry are what continue to make Edinburgh so rewarding - and so unmissable. (Mark Shenton The Stage)
With one or two exceptions - Spalding Gray springs to mind - the theatrical monologue show is intrinsically dull. At best, it spoonfeeds an audience that wants to be flattered with subtleties; at worst it simply harangues them. Who hasn't walked into a venue to feel their heart sink, just a little, at the sight of yet another single chair, yet another single spotlight, yet another cast of one? Solo plays can showcase fine, delicate acting, as Bully does at the Gilded Balloon, and inventive staging (try Borderline at the Underbelly for that), but these shows succeed in spite of the form not because of it, and they're not half as much fun to watch as an actual, honest-to-goodness play. (Paul Arendt - Guardian Online)
This gritty one-man show from writer/performer Richard Fry is delivered in rhyming verse and covers a lifetime of violence, loss and homophobia. Fry throws in enough jokes to break up the emotional tone, but this is a serious piece with a strong narrative that, while sad, carefully avoids sentimentality. (The List)
Best Delivery of Serious Material: Richard Fry's story of a bigoted bully was so intense I think I might have forgot to blink the entire hour. I left the Guilded Balloon feeling as if I myself had been kicked in the stomach. I still can't decide if I should cry or not - the twists and turns of this tale keep you wanting to know more and more despite the ugliness of it all. Richard speaks in such an intense style, an deep flame (of passion? of rage?) burning in his eyes. (www.planeteye.com)
WHAT THE EDINBURGH PUNTERS SAID
Fine Mix of Abuse and Coping 22 Aug 2008 reviewer: Sean Davis, USA
A 32-year-old gay man tells of his life growing up with an abusive father, and trying to find happiness in the gay bar scene. This well crafted monologue provides a fine mix of abusive events with coping techniques that include hiding, fraternal bonding, and escape. Throughout the play, I could feel his recurring fear that, despite his best efforts, he would be drawn into another abusive relationship.
Heartwarmingly Funny 17 Aug 2008 reviewer: Peter, UK
Up there with Scaramouche as one of the best we saw this week. Skillful and unusual delivery made this monologue unexpectedly funny and insightful.
Brilliant 16 Aug 2008 reviewer: elvis1969, UK
The intimate venue works well for this personal and powerful tale. Made me laugh and cry. I was genuinely moved by the writing and the natural performance of Richard Fry. Lovely fringe theatre.
Tear Jerker 12 Aug 2008 reviewer: Becca G, UK
A genuinely moving and tragic tale told by a master story-teller. The very anti-theatrical nature of Bully and its protagonist are an excellent acompaniment to the believably cell-like anti-theatrical space. If there is one criticism it is that at time the rhyming becomes to forced and this distracts from the power of the story, a few script revisions would make Bully a complete masterpiece. Go and see it.
Genuinely moving 10 Aug 2008 reviewer: Mark, Surrey
I really enjoyed this show and was surprised at how engaged I was for the full hour. The text (basically a very long poem) is superb and genuinely moving. The performance by Richard Fry is credible but not quite strong enough to match the quality of the text. Nearly brilliant - as it is, pretty bloody good!
Beautiful, Funny and Moving 04 Aug 2008 reviewer: Peter Alexander, United Kingdom
Bully is a brilliant hour long poetic monologue about the life and loves of a young gay man coming to terms with a turbulent childhood. Delivered with breathtaking honesty, charm and humour, it tugs on all the emotions... grief and passion, hope and despair. A beautiful, moving, gritty, acerbic take on life and what it can throw at you!
REVIEWS FROM THE ADELAIDE FRINGE 2010
A one-man tour-de-verse
is a one-man tour-de-verse about a male who is a victim of violence throughout his life. There are no props or music, there's simply Richard Fry, a spotlight, a chair, and a clever, chilling, and funny monologue, that's wonderfully told.
The play benefits from minimal direction, Fry's tight, taut, witty and harrowing script, and a solid recital from the writer-performer. All the experiences of a young homosexual growing up under an abusive father - after the death of a loving mother - and an unsympathetic sibling, is told in rhyming couplets. It takes a few minutes before the audience realises that the rhyming is intentional and it draws the listener deeper into the story.
As the tale unfolds, the audience laughs along with Davey's observations about school, music and sluts, yet has great sympathy following his many reversals as the cycle of violence continues into his adult life.
Along his journey, he meets kindness on a few occasions, but for most of the trip, he's abused by bad boyfriends, homophobic prejudice, internal conflict and violence in various forms.
It's powerful drama from a good actor rather than a great one but there's no doubting the strength of this disturbing story that's well told. Listening to Fry's story-telling is indeed astonishing but it's the strength of the story that captures the imagination.
is a triumph - the denouement is shattering - and is undoubtedly among the best the Fringe has to offer. (Steven Davenport - Adelaide Theatre Guide - 20/01/10)
Bully is the story of a man's battle to break the cycle of violence that starts with an abusive father and continues to rear its ugly head throughout his life.
A rhyming monologue written and performed on a bare stage by Englishman Richard Fry, it's constructed from song lyrics and verse penned by Fry over many years.
Exactly how autobiographical it is is unclear but two things stand out: Fry's compassionate delivery, and the narrative thread that follows the character's journey as a young gay man in a world filled with prejudice and hate.
Fry is a big man but his gentle demeanour, good humour and understated plea for tolerance make you want to leap out of your chair during the performance and give him a hug. Affecting, if a bit too gloom-filled at times. (Louise Nunn - Adelaide Advertiser 22/01/10)
WHAT THE ADELAIDE PUNTERS SAID (source www.talkfringe.com.au)
CHARLIES_ANGEL wrote: Heartwarming yet chilling. Cathartic yet dark.Charming yet repulsive, but extremley memorable.Don't miss it!
FringeyFan wrote: A-MAZING! Richard has the ability to draw you deep into a story with an emotional pull i've never experienced from attending any theatre performance before. Top notch, gripping, brilliance!!
jones wrote: This was brilliant. A BIG F***ing BRAVO!!! Just brilliant.
Fleshfreak wrote: This was great. Very conventional and well executed story telling. The acting was strong and I was moved.
abmcs wrote: With such intensity, brutal honesty and emotion, Richard Fry brought me to tears with this show. A must see this Fringe! Pure theatrical genius.
Janet wrote: FANTASTIC SHOW - DESERVES A FULL AUDIENCE EVERY NIGHT
hmassalsky wrote: This show was brilliant, showing how family tragedies ingulfed a young man, i really enjoyed the gay theme as well.
Cat_Woman wrote: I was so touched and moved by this brilliant young man and his performance, that at the end of this deeply personal story, I just wanted to get up on stage and hug him. Great writing and acting and a must see.
fringeaddict wrote: I cried in the first 20 seconds. Richard Fry takes you with him through every story, every emotion. A brilliantly performed and written piece that is my favourite of this year's fringe!
Fringer wrote: Wow! Since when does a show grab you in the first 60 seconds which are in total silence!! This story flows out of Richard's pores because it comes from deep within his own life history. Moving, tragic, funny, and romantic - all at the same time - Richard explores the family flaws & patterns that can shape our lives for good and ill.Richard is a fine actor - I was ON the bicycle with him, his brother and his mum racing down Windmill Hill as a child. Flawless and riveting performance. A must see!
Matthew wrote: A powerful, one-man show that traces the life of a boy/man trapped in a series of abusive relationships. The performance is intense, shifting swiftly between moments of light-hearted beauty and tragedy. The play is written in a sing-song, almost Dr Seussian, style that accentuates the humour and lightens a story that might, otherwise, be too depressing to enjoy. The central theme is unnecessarily recapped at the end but, apart from this, you can't look away from this man's train-wreck of a life.
tankililla_ wrote: this play is so amazing it will blow you away a must see
fenga wrote: I just sat back in the dark and listened to this story unfold. This guy is a master storyteller - never really overegging it - just subtle enough for you to fill in the gaps. Mesmerising. It's nice to see an intelligent, well thought out piece of theatre. Give this man an hour of your life and you will be rewarded.
DanSA wrote: I went to see this again. It really is a fantastic piece of theatre. It grabs you from the first minute and just keeps hold of you til long after it has finished. I've seen some great stuff at the fringe so far but this is the best. By far.
addy wrote: This man just broke my heart. Absolutely unmissable.
threeordreview wrote: One word - BRILLIANT!
kevinb wrote: I saw this coz a mate dragged me along. I'm more into comedy than theatre. But this show is actually very funny with some brilliant dark jokes. It's also very serious though and I was gripped by the story. It has made me want to see some more theatre.
Innkeeper wrote: Bully is a powerful monologue and what a treat to see it performed by the writer himself. Fry seems to step through his character's harsh exterior to allow the trapped and traumatised child within to take us on a journey that challenges stereotyped views of middle England and sexual politics. Very moving and thought-provoking. Go see it!
Vinylcutter wrote: This is one of the cleverest monologues I have seen in recent years. When you see it you will know what I mean. Richard Fry's performance is a knock out. His character can move you to tears one minute and have you belly laughing the next. A very powerful and relevant story from this actor who wrote it too. Brilliant!
Madame_P wrote: I saw BULLY three nights ago, and ever since I have not been able to stop thinking about it. BULLY is one of those shows that sticks with you. As time has gone on, I like it more and more. The writing is extremely clever, the performance is honest, intense and emotional. SO GOOD! Definately see it!
DanSA wrote: I wrote a review for this yesterday but it hasn't materialised. I can't remember what I wrote now other than I absolutley loved this piece. very powerful and thought-provoking. A great performance and a great story well told. It has stayed with me. Pure theatre.
CaptainCat wrote: Another brilliant nugget from C.I.T. - Guy Masterson's stable of international theatre. Richard Fry could be the unlikely hero of this year's fringe. In a single spot, he reaches into your heart, twangs your hearstrings and gently puts you down at the end, devastated, as you watch his innocent, gentle life gradually disintegrate. Fry stays humorously on the right side of maudlin as he leads us into his dark world. But what makes this so SO special is that it is all in verse. VERY VERY CLEVER!
Mia wrote: Can you escape your past and move forward, or will it always return to get you? Bully tackles this question through moving, yet amusing, prose. With nothing but a single chair on stage, this show is carried by the talent of writer/actor Richard Fry, who delivers a powerful and emotional performance. With a resonating honesty, this piece offers an insight into a cracked human psyche; the causes and the consequences. Venture to the West End for some impressive theatre.