I’m just back from a week in Scotland. I spent a couple of days at the Edinburgh Fringe, then onto the incredibly beautiful Isle of Skye.Then back to Edinburgh for a night. It was an excellent trip, filled with delight.
One of the particular delights was seeing so many varied and interesting shows at the fringe. Living just outside London, I should be able to see as much theatre as I wanted, but the cost of tickets and transport to the centre is often off putting. As a result, I have not been able to see as much live performances as I would like. Surrey often feels artistically bereft. It was a delight then, to see eleven different shows over two days, for little money.
The shows I saw were varied in style and content, but they all re-opened my eyes to the essential power of theatre. With a live performance, you can do anything and go anywhere. This is more pronounced in the medium compared to film, which needs to be grounded in the realistic. I think this is due to the suspension of disbelief.
Take The Marked, by Theatre Témoin, which I was lucky to see at the Pleasance Dome. It was an emotional exploration of homelessness and growing up with an alcoholic parent. Many of the devices used, such as quick cuts to another scene or a lack of dialogue are reminiscent of film. But the show itself was very theatrical, with only three actors playing all the parts and using a single set that was flexible for all the scenes. Furthermore, the show used masks and puppets to great effect, capturing the sense of the main character’s isolation and removal from reality. Some of the puppets were used for alienation and scares, such as the horrible, twisted claws of the mother. Some masks showed a range of different characters, expressions perfectly captured on their face. The result was a story that was utterly unique to theatre. If it was attempted on film, it would be too strange and too off putting, but as it was it became endearing and utterly engaging.
Theatre is able to expand the range of what’s possible by it’s limitations. Because the action is all happening in front of you, because there is a limited range of effects and actors, there is actually a wide range of creativity unlike any other medium.
Nowhere was this better exemplified than in the utterly stunning Counting Sheep by The Lemon Bucket Orkestra and Aurora Nova. It was based around first hand accounts of the Ukrainian revolution in 2014. The live music was beautiful and stirring, with an immersive experience that was unlike anything else I had ever seen. At various points in the production we were eating street food, dancing to celebrate a wedding, throwing brick at riot police and being menaced by soldiers with guns. The whole experience was completely unique to theatre, putting you within a revolution and being a part of the protests as they happened around you. It was a production that would lose it’s power in any other medium. But it was also a production that shows that within theatre, almost anything is possible, even putting the audience in the middle of a revolution.
The trip to the fringe has resparked my love of theatre, that has laid dormant for so long. There is so much potential in the medium, so much magic that can be created. The suspension of disbelief allows the audience to use their imagination more and to complete the experience. In the same way the reader changes a book they read, the live audience changes the live performance and creates something truly special.