Chewing Theatre: Notes on the Fringe and the Edinburgh Showcase British Council 2019
By Daniele Avila Small
In August 2019, I spent a week in Edinburgh, watching plays at the Fringe, a festival which is a worldwide reference and that provides an immense market for the scenic arts. Representing Brazilian festival MITsp – Mostra Internacional de Teatro de São Paulo, I attended the British Council Edinburgh Showcase (which includes plays on the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival). It included more than thirty shows in six days – which is nothing compared to the almost four thousand shows that are part of this year’s edition. In this article, I will write about a part of that program. I do not intend to write a review for each play, but to present a few ideas that came to my mind regarding all those plays together and side-by-side.
I observed the festival’s numbers, conscious of the relevance that this particular event has to the economy of the city and the country in which it happens. The Fringe makes up to 140 million pounds and provides almost three thousand jobs in the city. While the current Brazilian government dedicates itself to destroying our artistic production, I wonder if those political leaders have any idea of the difference this particular sector makes to the economy of the country. What are they trying to destroy after all?
Looking back at all those plays, when I was already at home in Rio de Janeiro, something clanged to my mind. Some shows presented a critical view on masculinity, its relation to violence and its craving for the annihilation of the other but mostly in its way to deal with power—in everyday life as well as from a historical perspective. Thus, on the following pages, I will try to think about those plays through the idea of masculinity and its tangible impacts but also regarding the propositions that stand against it, confronting colonialism, xenophobia, misogyny, transphobia, and racism. I will also comment on other plays that do not necessarily approach those themes but that left a positive impression on my experience at the festival.
MEN, INTERNET, AND POLITICS
Some issues that are paramount to the debates on nationality and politics in the United Kingdom are elaborated in the works of Javaad Alipoor and Chris Thorpe. Although these are very different shows, they seemed to me as an excellent pair in the showcase. Both of them work with a notion of theatre-making that does not separate writing, staging, acting, and critical thinking. By exposing their experiences, investigations, and insights, they are not revealing hidden truths or conveying unknown information to the audience. Rather, they are sharing their ideas about the world we live in and drawing attention to the structures that build affect, worldviews, and, above all, the “us” and “them” dichotomy.
The Believers Are But Brothers is the title of Javaad Alipoor’s lecture-performance directed by him and Kristy Housley, with Chris Thorpe as dramaturg. It explores fundamental ideas about masculinity, identity, and the way new technologies are influencing those notions. It is crucial to note that he is a Muslim artist making a statement about this issue instead of allowing the United Kingdom to designate him as an object or an other.
Before the show, which was presented in Studio Two at the Assembly, we are all invited to join a WhatsApp group that will be instrumental to the performance. Some parts of the text may only make sense if the spectator is using the app, for the way interactions happen on the Internet is as relevant as the content within it. Several interventions occur only through the app, as a realistic resource that invades the supposedly safe space of a theatre show and causes unsettling crossovers of feelings and thoughts.
By exposing his investigations on Islamic extremism in relation to grooming strategies on social networks and to a series of hate campaigns on the Internet (Gamergate, the Red Pill movement, and other hate speech incitement on websites such as 4chan), Alipoor provides a broader context to the violence of young men who join extremist movements. He exposes the imminent terror of the gathering of frustrated men of any religion, ethnic background or nationality, considering the recent incel’s misogynist wave, for example. With an in-depth vertical perspective on the subject, Alipoor addresses a contemporary global problem. After all, the success of the extreme right agenda is directly related to the capillarity and the mobilizing power of those resentful groups.
Status, a one-person show by Chris Thorpe, directed by Rachel Chavkin, and staged at The Blue Room at Assembly, presents an imaginative narrative of a journey interspersed by songs. Thorpe addresses the audience, narrating the story of a British citizen who somehow has two passports and starts a journey to question his notion of belonging to a nationality. He meets allegorical characters and goes through challenging situations. In a way, the subject matter may seem too local, but these themes are relevant beyond UK borders. The most twisted ideas of nationality are part of the collective madness caused by recent political manipulations in the world. One may notice that discourses underlying nationalist propaganda are strictly connected to patriarchal values that are coming out on frightening electoral campaigns. Aware of the risks of playing “the good white man” and of preaching to the converted, Thorpe approaches a timeless issue of international politics through the point of view of individuals and subjective implications.
OTHERNESS AND LANGUAGE
Racism and xenophobia are issues present in The Claim, a play directed by Mark Maughan, staged at the arena of the Roundabout at Summerhall. A Congolese immigrant claims for British asylum and meets an agent who has him under suspicion a priori and a translator whose presumptuousness is more significant than his capacity to understand the foreign language. The translator is a caricature of the patronizing vanity of the white man who sees himself as a great savior. Translation figures here as a cruel mediation: one more layer of oppression. Tim Cowbury’s writing, skillful in its dialogues, is practically a thriller. A little more violence, and it would turn into a horror play. That wouldn’t be an exaggeration. The experience of racism and xenophobia for those who have their lives at risk in the painful situations of prejudice is quite similar to this gender.
However, I wonder why the foreign language in the play is spoken in English. The critical standpoint of the work would be stronger if it took the risk to articulate English with a foreign language and its subtitles. It might be comfortable for those who have English as their mother tongue to have any language fictionally transferred to English, as so often seen in the movies or on TV. But for speakers of other languages, it sounds oddly artificial, like some kind of dubbing. The use of captioning would reinforce the invitation for critical thinking. It would give the audience a choice to trust the overconfident translator or to check the true testimony of the immigrant. Although I can distinguish and appreciate the merits of the work, as well as its social and political relevance, as a foreign spectator who is not a native speaker of English, I believe the show stumbles on the same point it means to criticize. The whole problem is the perspective of the white European man, as a historical agent, who takes his own standards as a universal measure to all relationships.
Violence in contemporary migration also figures in How not to drown, staged at the Traverse Theatre. Author and actor Dritan Kastrati (who has written the text with Nicola MacCarthy) tells the story he had lived when he was a boy. He fled from Kosovo to England, facing all the risks of the clandestine crossing and the violent aspects of a flawed system of adoption. Even though the show counts on the appeal of a true story, the excess of tidiness and the commitment to a certain standard of commercial quality provides a paradoxical experience of entertainment. It is as if the bourgeois spectators could redeem themselves by feeling compassionate about the story, thus compensating for their privileges by applauding an immigrant who survived and managed to fit an exclusionary social system. Efficiency and virtuosity, in this case, can make a cruel social process turn into a movie-like adventure of a teenage hero. It seems to over-romanticize reality. Despite the fact that the boy has gone through a lot and that those are his words – “I’m the real deal,” he says – the organizing perspective of Neil Bettles’ staging, combined with the type of acting technique adopted by the cast, wraps this experience of the real in an excessively colorful package.
Transphobia and racism are the main points of the political debate proposed in Burgerz by Travis Alabanza, a writer and a performer who uses the pronoun “they” to refer to themselves. Burgerz emphasizes the fact that intersectionality is something to talk about and that investigations on the colonization process cannot conceal the debate on gender: “To think it is only trans people that are misgendered is the whitest way to think about bodies. Black bodies have known what it means to be de-gendered, hyper-gendered, misgendered since the beginning of your slavery.”
The play was created after a situation of violence: One day, a man threw a hamburger at Travis and shouted a transphobic slur. As if this was not violent enough, there was another layer of aggression: the silence and indifference of those who saw it. To think back on that moment, they invited a volunteer in the audience to help them cook a burger and have a conversation. Tactful, intelligent, and with a sense of humor, they chose a person who synthesizes the historical cause of violence and oppression, a white cisgender man. The burger is also a metaphor for predetermined social standards and the illusion of freedom of choice in the details within these restricted standards. Preparing a burger is a way to operate on Travis’ trauma in each session, just like the Tranz Talkz, which are conversations held by the production team during the creative process involving people who have gone through similar experiences. Moreover, the show considers the passivity of those who do not take a stance on everyday life. However, the most important thing is the preparation of a meal with four hands, representing the aggressors and the assaulted minorities. It is the proposition of a healing process for one who is actually sick—the one who craves the annihilation of the other.
In the Edinburgh International Festival program, although distinctive in terms of language, two shows draw attention to the toxic effects of masculinity in its messianic delusions. Oedipus, adapted by Robert Icke with the International Theater Amsterdam, puts on a contemporary version of Sophocles’ tragedy, portraying the main character as a compelling candidate running for the presidency of a country in crisis. The setting (which resembles Ivo Van Hove’s plays too much) highlights a countdown in a digital clock in the campaign’s headquarters. As time goes forward to victory in the elections, the investigation into the character’s personal history and his memory returns to the past, until he who is considered the ultimate hope for political salvation is revealed as the actual cause of chaos. Despite the small difference of age between the actor and the actress playing Oedipus and Jocasta, and although the final moments of the show are too illustrative, the staging has kept the packed audience at King’s Theatre in a profound state of attention. Subtitles did not seem to be a problem. It is impressive how this familiar story is so contemporary. And it is especially intriguing that narratives centered in great male characters incapable of seeing themselves and the damages they cause are such a recurrent theme in western theatre culture, since the Greek. Should we consider it evidence that theatre cannot change society at all?
Tim Crouch’s creation with the National Theatre of Scotland, Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, summons us to be suspicious of an openly patriarchal way of solving things. It portraits the megalomaniac vision of a man who sees himself as the chosen soul to provide total immediate salvation to all who follow him, even if he is nothing but a common man, unable to handle a severe loss. Sitting in a circle on the spacious venue at The Studio, spectators follow the action through a book. On the first pages, Rachana Jadhav’s comics tell us what has happened fifteen years before the present moment. A five-year-old boy falls and drowns in a lake after the frosted surface breaks. He was holding his father’s hand. His mother and three-year-old sister can see everything, but from a safe place. The father stays in a coma but survives and becomes the leader of a sect. He and his followers wait for an eclipse, which is supposed to provide, to this exclusive group, the immediate salvation mentioned in the title.
The female characters are the ones who determine the time to turn each page in the book, something we must all do at the same time. It is as if the book in our hands could endow a more tangible concreteness to the convivial space of the theatre. It makes us pay attention to the present moment, even if the narrative creates expectations for the future of the plot. It may seem simple, but it is very sophisticated.
For most of the show, we read and watch the scene in which the mother reunites with her daughter. Years ago, the mother stood against the insane propositions of her husband and has been punished for that. She has different ideas for the life of the girl: a more feminine modus operandi that faces things and takes care (even of herself, by the way); this is the opposite of what occurs under the eyes of the father, who sweeps all his problems under a magical cosmic solution. The anticipated eclipse is like the Final Judgment, dividing the world between the saved and the doomed. It is also similar to the building of a wall, or the political isolation of a nation. These are all foolish solutions for a made-up problem: the evil construction of the opposition between “us” and “them,” again.
The adjective “immediate” in the title is crucial. It can be taken as an example to elucidate aspects of other shows concerning the idea of masculinity that is at stake here. In The Believers Are But Brothers, Alipoor focuses on the eagerness for immediacy as an aspect of the behavior of men threatened in their masculinity. Regarding the possibilities that pop up on the screen of a cell phone or a computer, they have the illusion that everything can be solved in a click, with a pill they can swallow without chewing. Chewing would be like facing each step of an equation, dwelling on the causes and the contexts, operating upon oneself, trusting some mediation. The preparation of a meal, for example, as Travis Alabanza proposes in Burguerz, takes time to accomplish one step at a time. It is the opposite of an immediate solution. Similarly, the mother in Total Immediate… brings something for the girl to chew.
The interactive aspect of the staging alludes to the power of seduction/coercion that gathers ordinary people in collective madness. In the final moments, the pleasant fruition makes us say “yes” to a delusional messiah several times. But it is not a manipulative trick. Directors Andy Smith and Karl James build up the critical hesitation on the spectators, mostly by the attitude of the mother, the symbolic pillar of coherence in the narrative, delicately elaborated by Susan Vidler.
MENTAL HEALTH AND CONFRONTATION
It is ironical to notice that the image of justice is represented in western cultures by female figures when, historically, we have been living in a world in which men dominate all places of power and are capable of everything to hold on to that privilege. Courtroom plays are not conventional in Brazil. Still, we Brazilians know very well the theatricality and the power of a courtroom as the staging of a fiction that interferes in reality. The judgment of President Lula and the sudden political rise of the judge who condemned him is a perfect example of it.
Presented at the Underbelly, It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a devised theatre work based on official records of the trial of an art teacher who raped a student. In fact, the rapist’s trial seems more like the victim’s trial. Tortured to attest to the truthfulness of her testimony, she repeatedly cried that she was telling the truth—that’s what the repetition in the title is about. The play was created in early 2018, the same year as #MeToo, an online campaign responsible for a massive consciousness-raising on rape culture. It looks backs at a case from the 17th century. In 1612, young artist Artemísia Gentileschi was raped inside her own house by her tutor, Agostino Tassi. In the process of suing him, she was a victim of another form of violence, for all witnesses, as well as the law system itself, did everything they could to discredit her.
To conceal and to naturalize the misogynous practices of the world of men, institutions have been blaming women by portraying female sexuality as a demoniac activity. In the construction of this imagery, the patriarchy joins forces with the law and medical science to create the myth of female madness. To corroborate this, it creates social fictions as cruel as Artemísia’s trial—which can actually make anyone lose their mind. The similarity to the contemporary reality of women who are victims of all kinds of abuse is infuriating. Listening to such narratives, one can see how white cisgender men have behaved as predators throughout history. As in The Claim, the material devised in It’s True, It’s True, It’s True could also have been used in the creation of a horror play.
Despite the relevance of the theme and the refined writing of the actresses, who are also authors of this collective dramaturgy, the artistic language of the show may look a bit amateurish. Billy Barrett’s staging bets all its chips on an amplified theatricality as if he frequently wanted to underline what is already evident. The sophisticated material is thus stifled by the numerous visual and dramaturgical elements that seem to hinder more than help. Therefore, the show leaves nothing for the spectators to think for themselves.
In I’m a Phoenix, Bitch, staged at the Pleasance Courtyard, Bryony Kimmings presents a moving narration about the worst year of her life, when she had to face the critical illness of her newborn son, separation, and the loss of her home. This was a time in which her mental health was very fragile. Telling a true personal story in this show is assumedly part of a healing process, a necessary step on a series of exercises she has to confront to overcome her traumas. She puts them all on stage, rewinding and reperforming vital moments of her life, and delivers a critical analysis of all elements involved in this process, investigating the personal and cultural habits that shape certain behaviors. As she looks back and examines her way of dealing with men, she sees the influence of female archetypes created by the movie industry. With the help of a camera and live broadcasting, she performs caricatures of herself, wearing wigs and props that stress the artificiality of the construction of those images. The setting creates stations of memory, as core areas with concentrations of knots she has to untie. The central memory station is the house, a romantic cabin in the countryside, the site where she lost her mind.
Post-natal mental health is a nuclear point of the show, but mental health, in general, seems to be a relevant theme to Kimmings’ work in recent times. She had worked on it in a previous show, but concerning men with clinical depression. Society’s omission on the approach of that matter, which is a public health problem, is another characteristic of that idea of masculinity that is unable to linger on complex issues and to confront them, pretending everything is under control while looking for quick, painless solutions. But she does not make any accusations. The white cisgender man is not a character of flesh and bone in her story, but a picture in her mind, as an internal device of self-criticism that is continually judging her harshly. As the healing process advances, this character loses his power over her, and she starts being able to negotiate with herself to dismiss this constraining voice.
Nevertheless, as in It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, the language of the staging is quite distinct from the theatre I am used to. When Kimmings stages the past, her acting techniques are so charged with histrionic theatricality that everything becomes excessively explanatory. But perhaps this is the energy she needs to handle this substantial challenging task.
In Man on the Moon, Keisha Thompson approaches the mental health issue in the context of being a Black British in the UK. Although ethnic minorities are overrepresented in mental health institutions, the recognized and validated knowledge on the matter is always in the hands of white people. The show is about her father and the journey she is undertaking to try to know him better. Since childhood, communication between them has happened through the books he used to leave at her letterbox. Later on, as a grown woman, with the help of her investigations, she starts to try and have a better understanding of her father’s reclusion, the different names he has chosen for himself throughout his life, his political positions, and the way his condition is presented in the family dynamic.
Directed by Benji Reid, the first person singular narrative voice is staged with the tone of a private conversation. The dimensions of the Red Lecture Theatre at Summerhall provide the conditions for the intimacy required so that the audience members can look the actress in the eye and she can look at them. Both the narrative and the visual aspects of the show take Afrofuturism as a reference, counting on an affirmative gaze to deal with what we cannot fully comprehend, which is the mind of a person who does not function at a given normality standard. In her investigations, Keisha Thompson looks back and tries to reconstruct certain situations, but she is always aware of her creative skills to build proactive imagery from gaps and ruins.
Researching the artist who works not only in theatre, literature, and music, but also in mathematics and creative education, I came across a short article in which she writes about the misinterpretation of the concept of binary. She states that, originally, binary is about duality, not the mutual exclusion of opposites and that this distortion has a brain-washing effect, which has caused misunderstandings about lots of learning processes in the binary division of gender. For instance, she criticizes the myth that says that boys are good with math, and girls are not. If we look at mental health and disregard the binary interpretation as the mutual exclusion of states, maybe the debate can get us a little further on.
ON OTHER ABILITIES
The debate on the idea of normality is carried on in two shows that deal with “disabilities”: Purposeless Movements, by the Birds of Paradise Theatre Company, which is dedicated to artistic creation and training for people with disabilities; and Louder is Not Always Clearer by visual artist and teacher Jonny Cotzen, directed by Gareth Clark.
Speaking in the first person singular, delivering autobiographical stories and critical statements is a creative expedient in Purposeless Movements, presented at The Studio. Four male characters with varying degrees of cerebral palsy dance and address the audience to tell their stories, sharing tales of their professional, public, family, and love lives. The score is played live so the musicians can mirror the specific pace of each performance, matching the different rhythms and the unpredictable duration of the actor’s displacement. A female translator to sign language is always present in a completely integrated way, dancing and moving with the cast. English subtitles are needed, for it may be challenging to understand the actors. The whole show is punctuated by good humor and straightforwardness, so there is no room for victimization. The staging by Robert Softley Gale, who also has cerebral palsy, is not a patronizing eye from the outside. The fact that the group works with professional actors is a crucial aspect to take into consideration. It is part of the dramaturgical structure of the show. The biographical narratives are traversed by concerns related to the art world and the problem of representation, as, for example, the autobiographical pact that is implicit in this particular form, which is so familiar to contemporary theatre practices in festivals and showcases. This is probably the most vulnerable point to consider, something that can unsettle the fruition of the show. It would take some spoilers to deepen this argument, so I will just leave this comment as a suggestion of thought to those who have had the chance to watch the play.
The way people who are not deaf deal with deafness in everyday life is one of the core aspects of Louder Is Not Always Clearer, presented in Techcube 0 at Summerhall. The show was created in workshops with several deaf people. Thus, although Jonny Cotzen refers to facts from his personal history, this is not an autobiographical work but an attempt to talk about the transit between the hearing and the non-hearing world. Sometimes, Cotzen addresses only the deaf people in the audience, but there are also moments when the audience is invited to interact through sign language. The title of the play, as well as a sign where he writes in capital letters, “DEAF IS NOT STUPID,” is an admonition to the presumptuousness of hearing people. It works as an invitation for us who are not deaf—or who are not deaf yet—to make the effort of trying another form of communication, at least for a few minutes. After all, the distance that separates both worlds is not made only of sound and silence but also of ignorance and indifference. The show states that the presumption of normality may be the most severe disability. It is up to us in the audience to choose if our case is irreversible or not.
BODIES AND DISCOURSES
In Post Popular, presented at the Pleasance Courtyard, Lucy McCormick creates humorous situations to reperform historical moments led by women who managed to carve their names on official history throughout centuries of male protagonists. Her aggressive humor shows that perhaps we do not have so many reasons to laugh, but insolence might as well be an alternative. Literally throwing things at the audience’s faces, she is on stage with two men who dance with her with great vigor on a floor full of dirt, liquids, and food remains. There is not a single moment when her presence is not fully committed to the materiality of her body. It sounds redundant, but it is a matter of emphasis. Her statements are not cerebral. It is by dealing with her body, including the concreteness of her orifices, that she displays her critical discourse. Post Popular puts the artists’ bodies at stake in a bold, radical way. By contrast, it calls attention to a tendency in theatre to be excessively cerebral and to the habit of separation between intellectual elaboration and the engagement of the flesh in critical thinking and discourse. The belief in the separation between mind and body, as well as the supposed superiority of the mind, is part of the misinterpretation of the concept of binary I have previously mentioned.
Among the contemporary dance works I have seen at the Dance Base, two of them presented relevant questions on the idea of feminine and its diminishing stereotypes. In The Forecast, Amy Bell talks about the invisibility of queer women in dance, putting in discussion some concerns on the trans and non-binary bodies in this particular artistic field. The willingness to gather too many aspects at the same time might have undermined the first part of the show. When the discursive demands make way to the performance, she successfully expresses what her body has to offer on its own, beyond her political statement. Thus, the fierceness of the argument gradually increases, exposing what dance and, ultimately, what dance audiences are losing with the monotony of standardisation.
In Becky Namgauds’s Like Honey, the notion of the feminine is also in dispute but through a different perspective, portraying a body that would fit specific standards of beauty. It is in the energy of this body and in its relation to movement that the artists question lightness as the ultimate quality of women’s bodies — something that is also in Amy Bell’s work. Sensuality in Amanda Pefkou’s performance is charged with smoldering aggressiveness. Regarding the menstrual cycle and practices of the sacred feminine as inspiring mottos, her body emanates intense sexual energy. It is framed by the contrast produced by the sound landscape created and performed live by Claire Shahmoon. The exquisite sonority collaborates to create a dense atmosphere, almost hieratic. It frames the sexuality of her body and movement in a pictorial domain, mediating it by the idea of art, by the artificiality of creation. This mediation enlarges our gaze, making us see with critical standpoints the standards constructed in the accumulation of images, which enforce unrealistic forms of the feminine. Art history, as an efficient instrument of patriarchy, casts over our bodies its own share of violence.
With different propositions and affirmative bodies, each in their own way, the creators of both shows not only comment on the artificiality of the construction of stereotypes and the predetermined places that patriarchal societies create as entrapments. They affirm, celebrate, and give form to the verve of its reverse.
Speaking of celebration, it was interesting to watch a show I already knew from the Brazilian version. Presented at the Zoo Southside, Looping Scotland Overdub is the Scottish Dance Theatre’s version of Looping Bahia Overdub, a Brazilian contemporary dance performance directed by Felipe de Assis, Leonardo França, and Rita Aquino. I have seen Looping Bahia Overdub on several occasions: in Buenos Aires, Argentina, with a reduced audience (as in the occasion in Edinburgh), but also with great crowds in Rio de Janeiro and Belo Horizonte, Brazil. Looping asserts the uprising power of celebration, considering the party as a language of protest, an affirmation of life, bodies, and freedom. The discursive observations are integrated into the adherence of the bodies in movement. The spoken formulations are intertwined with the music. In the Scottish version, the discursive dimension has prevailed over the proposition of festivity. The dancers present their critical speeches, with longer and more direct texts commenting on the social issues they criticize. Still, the invitation for the audience to participate with their bodies, engaging in the performance, made the show a unique experience for me that week.
TIME IN SPACE
Even in such a short period, it was easy to notice how each venue presents a specific curatorial contour. Also, though there might be room for varying languages, one can see the internal coherence of each program. In a festival as big as the Fringe, which does not have a curatorial direction but is marked by economic privileges (each production takes its own risks to participate in the festival), producers must know which venues would welcome their shows. There are more than three hundred; I have been to less than the tenth part of it. The Summerhall program, for instance, and, consequently, the venue’s audience, seemed open to experimental practices, a concept of theatre dedicated to the relationship with the spectators, conviviality, and the idea of spending time together. Besides having several rooms presenting performances simultaneously, some of these rooms are free from the conventional theatrical framings, like rehearsal rooms or anatomical theatres. The closeness between the imagery of theatre and scientific laboratories can be quite intriguing.
Watching Extremely Pedestrian Chorales probably would not have been so much fun if it had happened at a conventional theatre and without the direct approach of the creators. When I got to the room, choreographer Karl Jay-Lewin came to talk to me and the other people around me, contextualizing their investigations in a one-on-one mediation. The experimental dimension and the playful relation between body and mathematics, as well as the sophisticated yet unpretentious atmosphere of the show, seemed perfectly adequate to the ambiance of the Rose Bruford at Upper Church at Summerhall.
At the same venue, Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas presented their recent works. As in their previous shows, One and The End count on a certain closeness with the audience. Their plays are commonly founded in the dynamics of oppressor and oppressed, a classical theme of drama and theatre in general. The keys for the spectators to elaborate is in the titles and the short, suggestive narratives of the plays. My perception was framed by the dynamics of oppression that appeared in the shows mentioned before. Naturally, the scenic expedients and the charisma of the duo make the conditions to open up the creative willingness and good humor of the public. But the energy of the place is definitely a decisive ingredient.
It was also at the Summerhall that I watched Before the Revolution by Ahmed El Attar, a strong yet delicate play about oppression and violence in Egypt before the revolution. And there, I also had the chance to see a performance written and directed by Tim Etchells. To Move in Time is a one-person show created for the excellent Tyrone Huggins. He takes us through a vertiginous oscillation between everyday banalities and overwhelming historical processes, between an appeal for responsibility to the world in the present and the acknowledgment of how unpredictable are the consequences of our individual choices.
The questions asked in To Move in Time sounded particularly appropriate in the context of a festival. The hours and the days in theatre festivals linger on and cling to memory in such a peculiar way, making the chronological time seem a poorly imaginative fiction. And the critical exercise of remembering and writing about what moves us becomes an attempt to travel in time, a way to chew memory and thinking. It is a gesture that demands a proper duration, and that usually does not seem to match the stars printed on the countless posters spread all over Edinburgh. Stars are part of the game, and they are also fine, but there are no ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ that can provide immediate salvation.
Daniele Avila Small (Rio de Janeiro, 1976) has a Ph.D. in Scenic Arts; she is a theatre critic and curator.