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Emma Hadley-Leonard presents Pinched at Edinburgh Fringe

This is not the easiest show to watch by any stretch of the imagination. It doesn’t have copious amounts of fake blood, or overuse of strong language. The damage to Emma Hadley-Leonard’s nameless character is, at root cause, psychological, although this ends up manifesting itself physically too. It gradually becomes clear she is, or rather was, in a highly toxic relationship, in which she was belittled and bullied rather than uplifted and encouraged. Her (now ex) partner places her under such intense pressure for so long, with all sorts of demands placed on her, that she eventually burns out, dramatized by way of movements that gain in rapidity and vigour until her body gives out and she collapses.

PINCHED - Emma Hadley.I found it fascinating how this still happens in the digital era. Some victims (some prefer the term ‘survivors’) of domestic abuse that occurred decades ago have said that it wasn’t so easy to get help back then because one couldn’t just go online or text someone. There’s a poetic tone as the story begins, and what begins as quite a blissful relationship turns sour in increments, though even in the early stages, proverbial red flags appear, with her partner picking out a specific outfit he wants her to wear, which is, of course, very different to what she is already wearing, ready for a night out.

There is – spoiler alert – a happy ending, although perhaps it’s not so much an ending but rather a new beginning. Reconnecting with friends, she goes to the karaoke, delivering a performance so emotionally charged it’s a wonder she makes it to the end of the song without completely breaking down. The heady atmosphere of the karaoke is created with the help of the audience – an entirely voluntary exercise – which if anything is as much as a blessed relief for the young woman with so much of her life still ahead of her as it is for the audience watching and listening to this distressing account.

It’s very much an individual story: there are many ways to cope, and then survive, and then thrive, and this is an account of how she managed to break free. “Will you help me?” Hadley-Leonard asks, more than once, sending a subtle and powerful message that nobody needs to overcome all-consuming problems all by themselves. This passionate and inspiring performance will stick in the mind for some time.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Pinched draws on both Emma and others’ battles with body image, self-worth and unhealthy relationships, speaking almost entirely in a fast-paced, passionate rhyming verse, supported by original music, movement and audience-interactive karaoke. Emma’s confessional style of storytelling feels like a much overdue catch up with an eccentric friend, underpinned by moments of crisis and self-deprecating comedy.

Listings Information
Venue: Sprout Studio, Greenside @ Infirmary St (Venue 236)
Dates: 14-26th Aug 2023

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