The Fringe: high points and hell
Subversion, submission and solitude were some of the issues addressed in a Fringe festival that offered a look at the state of the nation through imagination and the proscenium arch, writes PETER CRAWLEY
‘OCCUPY YOUR Imagination,” instructed the slogan of this year’s Absolut Fringe. As a theme for two weeks of new performance, which could be as enchanting as Willfredd Theatre’s Farm (part documentary, part petting zoo), or as starkly confrontational as an invitation to assist Stephen Rea in a fictive suicide in White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, this command was wide open to interpretation.
Was the Fringe presenting art as a form of protest and intervention, or co-opting an exhausted political movement into its marketing campaign? Were we invited to engage with the world around us or retreat from it?
The answer, paradoxically, was both. From the beginning, imagination was persuasively presented as a political act, a tool to depict the state of a nation through the eyes of the individual. To transcend global authoritarian borders, to envision the worst-case scenario then construct positive alternatives in the hope of somehow realising them.
Stefanie Preissner’s light and lyrical Solpadeine is my Boyfriend showed a young woman self-medicating while her society dissolved in apathy and emigration, but finally refused to take it lying down.
Nassim Soleimanpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit brought the Iranian writer, a conscientious objector forbidden from leaving his country, into our minds with a teasing experiment in control, conformity and resistance.
But while they both represented struggle, there was something equally revealing and concerning in scenes of submission. PillowTalk’s Anna in Between was not the only piece explicitly engaged with depression and unsure how to depict it, but it tapped into a helpless mood, a sorrow without explanation: “I don’t know why I feel like this. I just do.”
Thisispopbaby did something similar with Elevator, a production that seemed equally prey to hype and backlash, in which various beautiful 20-nothings orgied unhappily and snorted drugs so ravenously from each other’s bodies, it seemed they were trying to inhale themselves. The play engaged with its own substance abuse (it didn’t have much), but here was a flashy tomb for the good times.
For others the party didn’t stop. You could make comparisons with the wonderfully inventive and richly immersive All Hell Lay Beneath, director Marc Atkinson’s loose retelling of Steppenwolf for Sugarglass Theatre, which made similar points with considerably more glee, threading the novel into a bacchanalian party of blissful discoveries, interactive installations and, finally, a sobering reminder of the cost of decadence.
Among a strong dance programme, Emma Martin’s revelatory Dogs watched polite society reach an exciting feral collapse, measured out in gender collisions, fraying classical music or the sensationally choreographed repercussions of a supermarket freakout.