8:8 @ Summerhall

Mercimax's show, part of the Swiss Selection programme at Summerhall, is a peculiar, quiet piece with a delicate intimacy

Review by Eliza Gearty | 19 Aug 2019
  • 8:8 @ Summerhall

8:8 is weird from the outset. Eight performers stand in front of an audience (of eight – get it?), and without moving or speaking, they stare us down. It begins to feel a little uncomfortable. A few people titter. Eventually the performers start to move around the room, jumping and turning, moving in sync, creating shapes with their bodies. 

The movement feels a little gimmicky, but things get more interesting when the performers pull up eight chairs in a perfect straight line and begin to speak. They divulge details about themselves, some tender, others shocking. They share these stories about their lives with the candour and simplicity of a person chatting over a cup of tea. There's no performativity here – these people are members of the local community after all, not all actors. When one tells a story that lapses into upsetting territory, her distress seems genuinely authentic. But every piece of information divulged has an added afterword – whether what was just said is true, partially true or a lie. 

It stirs up some feelings. The movement sequence seems a little prolonged, but the initial lack of dialogue does open up some questions. How much do we judge people by their appearance alone? How surprised are we by revelations that don't tally up with our first impressions? The story sharing, like one half of an intimate conversation to which we aren't allowed to respond, is also thought-provoking. What's the difference between a lie and an elaboration of the truth? Is all story-telling, anecdote-sharing, only partially true due to the unreliability of the narrator we hear it from?

The most moving part of the piece comes at the end, when each performer sits right in front of an audience member, gives them headphones to wear and quietly stares into their eyes while they listen to a pre-recorded, highly personal segment. It's intense and almost intolerably intimate, but once the strangeness of staring into a stranger's eyes while listening to private details about their lives fades, you're left with something quite beautiful.

8:8 is brief – only half an hour long – but it doesn't seem thin or underdeveloped. In fact, adding more to this peculiar, quiet show would risk undermining the delicate intimacy that it creates. 

8:8Summerhall (Former Womens' Locker Room), until 25 Aug, various times, returns only