A number of shows that I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had formats that I had never experienced in theater before. But, though, I found them interesting, they were not successful.
Before attending the Fringe Festival (this was my first year), I decided to rate each show that I saw on a one to five scale. My friend Nanette and I agreed on what each rating meant and as we left each show we shared our ratings with each other. A three-star rating was for shows that we enjoyed. More than that, for shows we would enthusiastically recommend. I noticed along the way that there were a few shows that I had high hopes for because I anticipated something different, but ultimately I was disappointed and had to rate them less than a three.
Theater on a Long Thin Wire
One of those shows was Theater on a Long Wire (by Jack McNamara, artistic director of New Perspectives Theatre). The audience for each performance is limited to 16 people. We entered a small attic space at the Summerhall theaters—there was a chair with a cellphone on it. The phone rang. It took the group of strangers a couple of seconds to realize that someone needed to answer it. I actually tried to do so, but instead, accidentally hung up on the call. Now what? The phone rang again and someone else stepped in to answer it. The whole theater performance consisted of audience members repeating the words of the “performer” to the rest of the group. (What happened to speakerphones?)
The caller told us of his fear of leaving his room he was in. He then described leaving his room and coming to see us. The only suspense in Theater on a Long Thin Wire was whether we would actually see the performer (though, since the show describes itself as theater without actors, the suspense was limited). He said he had reached the building and was on his way up the stairs. Yes, my imagination was working—I was picturing the building I had just entered and the stairs I had gone up to get to this room. I was wondering what the performer looked like. But isn’t that the purpose of reading a book—your mind creates all of the images of the written word? What happens when theater becomes an uninteresting audio book?
Following the directions of the person at the other end of the line, the phone was handed off to three others and then back to the first. Sometimes the caller requested that everyone repeat specific phrases, or clap, or look out the window. I wondered why we all followed the directions to a “T”. Though two people left the room early in the show, the rest of us did exactly as we were told. I also found it interesting to observe how people ended up with the phone. Is that what the show was about? Group dynamics? Co-operation? Leadership? Conformity? If so, it was done at the expense of boredom.
I gave the show 2 stars—I didn’t like it. It held my interest because I kept hoping for more, but in the end, there was no pay off. The Fringe Festival’s theme this year is “unboring”. The telephone caller in Theater on a Long Wire didn’t get the message.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland
Another unique theater experience was The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. The stage is divided in two. Audience members are split. Some start out on one side and some, the other. Halfway through the show, the audience switches sides.
The two parts of the stage are divided by a wall with windows. Window shades block the view of the other side of the stage. When the performance started, I could hear some of what was happening on the other part of the stage. Occasionally actors from that side would enter the stage on my side. At some point the shades were lifted and I had a better view of the other stage.
On my side, I was viewing a man in a blue hospital outfit. Doctor or patient? An actor comes from the other side of the stage and sits on a chair—apparently he is a patient and the man in blue is his psychiatrist. On the other side, from what I can here, there is a family—perhaps a mother and her sons. Is this the past of the patient? Are these voices he is hearing? The psychiatrist seems to be troubled as well. Is he hearing voices too? We get a glimpse of an actor on the other stage—he looks very much like the psychiatrist. Is there some relation? Are some aspects of the family on the other side actually part of the psychiatrist’s past or present?
When we switch to the side with the family, what is happening is just as elusive. The words spoken are bits and pieces, there isn’t a real conversation. The mother speaks about Dracula, saying that he was Irish. The characters discuss what to eat and ask where father has gone.
None of my questions are answered and I never get enough clues to make sense of it all.
For me, one of the more interesting aspects of the show relates to multi-tasking. The second half of the show is, for the most part, a repeat of the first half—but now seen from the other stage. During the second half, I hear sentences spoken that I didn’t notice before. Some of those sentences come from the side of the stage I was originally sitting on. How did I miss those sentences the first time round? Was my mind wandering? Was I listening to the other side of the stage? Another thing I found interesting was the difference between just hearing something and having both audio and visual. I hear a shaking sound from the other side of the stage and remember the facial expressions of the actor trying futilely to open a pill bottle, but then I hear a similar sound that I don’t remember and can’t visualize. But these things aren’t interesting enough to sustain me.
The theater group, Ridiculusmus, says the play is inspired by a treatment method for psychosis involving open dialogue (as opposed to drugs) that has virtually eradicated schizophrenia from Western Lapland. How this play relates to that treatment method is unclear to me. I didn’t see a transformation or improvement in the character that clearly suffered from psychosis and I didn’t see (or hear) anything I could understand as open dialogue. It seemed that some sort of psychosis was being experienced by more than one character on the stage—and that it was not in a process of being eradicated.
My rating: 2.5 stars