Concerned Others @ Summerhall

Concerned Others is a powerful take on Scotland's crisis of substance dependency, but comes across as more public service announcement than cutting-edge theatre

Review by Josephine Balfour-Oatts | 05 Sep 2023
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Concerned Others is a compassionate response to the current crisis of substance dependency in Scotland, which has the highest rate of drug-related deaths in Europe. Both compact and impactful, this 45-minute piece uses shoebox installations, micro-projection, and 32mm figures to challenge stigma and misunderstanding around addiction. Created by Tortoise in a Nutshell and delivered by solo performer Alex Bird, addiction is framed here not as a medical problem, but as a societal one.

Produced in collaboration with the charities Simon Community Scotland and Scottish Families Affected by Alcohol and Drugs, Concerned Others is elegantly conceived and extraordinary in its artistry. In its careful, granular attention to public health at large, it is educational in its assessment of addiction within contexts of abuse, trauma, and poverty, and in its highlighting of the drugs mission statement by the Scottish government as well. 

The piece tackles issues of moral superiority head-on, demonstrating the dangers of mass complacency through miniaturised public spaces – here, indifferent parties share benches with rough sleepers, without so much as looking up from their newspapers. The roadside becomes a yard site of body bags. Figures stand on the roofs of local buildings, or dangle their legs over the ledge – they are perilously close to jumping, or falling.

A series of masks – worn on one of Bird’s hands – shows someone on the brink of relapse. Their features shift with such frequency and intensity that, in performing a panic attack, the masks resemble white noise. This is particularly powerful, and also constitutes one of Concerned Others’ more overtly 'theatrical' moments. As a rule, it is quiet, perhaps too quiet, in its approach. 

While the many ills of our contemporary social sphere are acted out throughout, the final result is curiously like a public service announcement or lecture. It is a performance that requires from its audience not so much a suspension of disbelief as a suspension of judgement and opinion. This means that, ultimately, Concerned Others is thought-provoking, but not provocative. A flame, not a fire.