Experimental theatre at Edinburgh Festivals 2017

With more and more theatre companies doing innovative and different things with the art of theatre, The Skinny ponder the eternal question, what *is* it, tho? What is it?

Feature by Katie Hawthorne | 02 Aug 2017
  • Real Magic

If we did a Family Fortunes, and asked the public to name things that make theatre theatre, you’d probably get something like: actors, audiences, scripts, stages, etc. But what happens if a show only has one of the above? Trying to describe what theatre *is*, or what it can be, proves deceptively difficult. So, to make the matter more confusing, we spoke to three theatre makers about the form-pushing, game-changing productions they’ll be bringing to the Fringe this August.

Tim Etchells, artistic director of Forced Entertainment – Real Magic

After 33 years in the business, award-winning Sheffield-based mavericks Forced Entertainment are infamous for testing the limits of theatrical form – and their audiences' stamina. Their work can be extremely lengthy, improvised, and/or repetitive, but more than anything, FE go out of their way to provide a challenge. Real Magic involves chicken suits and mind reading... and Tim explains the rest:

“It's actually quite short, but we’ve managed to make it feel like you’ve really gone through something! We’ve boiled it right down to its essence. It’s like a game show, or a cabaret act from late night television. Later, [we realised] it’s about being trapped, and the possibilities of inventing your way out of something, creatively and comically. Can we effect change inside a system when it doesn’t really allow for it? Can you change capitalism? None of this is explicit, but I think [the piece] is plugged in to this moment in time.

Real Magic is focussed on this one scene, and going back to it… and going back to it. Trying to figure it out. To me, there’s a pretty direct connection to sharing viral video, viral moments – taking a thing and reworking it. Digital has crystalised a certain way of being able to think about and look at the world. It’s about dispersal and repetition, and that’s something we’ve responded to.

“We don’t make things easy for people. But I think we’re good at realising what the limits are. When to change things, when to stretch people, when to push. There's drama in that. 

“It’s raw and live, and we try to preserve the feeling of something that’s just falling into place. It often involves careful rehearsal; that kind of chaos, we wouldn’t dare leave it to chance!”

Nassim Soleimanpour, playwright – Nassim

Soleimanpour is an Iranian writer who found fame with White Rabbit, Red Rabbit – a script designed to be performed ‘cold’ every night. No rehearsals, no directors, just an unprepared actor and an eager audience. All the pros from Whoopi Goldberg to Alan Cumming have had a go at it, and his new work Nassim, uses a similar premise... but this time the playwright will be on stage, too.

“So one of the possibilities of this structure is that there’s no gender, no age, no race. We think Nassim is the next level: it’s a translation machine, based on the idea of language, to make new friends! Tell some stories, have some fun.

Rabbit took me a long time to write. Six, seven years – you learn your lessons. Take notes, imagine different possibilities, and then there’s a point that you’re confident: I’m pretty sure this can fly! But look, the history of flying proves, over the years, that it doesn’t always work… And with this metaphor, Nassim is an even bigger flight.

“I work with algorithm. I studied engineering for a long time, I worked in architecture. I work with all the 'if's'. It’s like, if you rent a new place, the building should stand. A toilet is a toilet. But people move in, and they bring their own life. They change the building the way they want it. I just don’t want it to collapse! If it collapses that’s my fault; that’s bad writing.

“I’m not a performer – I’m just myself. I'll age with this show – this show will last as far as I live. If I die, the show dies. That’s why we call it a machine.”

Candice Edmunds, artistic director of Vox Motus – Flight

Based in Glasgow and founded in 2003, Vox Motus are a touring theatre company renowned for exuberant puppetry and explorative, multi-media shows. Flight is an adaptation of Caroline Brothers’ novel Hinterland, and tells the story of two young, Afghan brothers seeking refuge through a unique, one-on-one experience.

“[We tried] to find a form that would bring audiences right into the emotional lives of our two protagonists. While riffing on the idea of worlds in miniature, we developed the idea of audience members seated around a revolving carousel of beautifully realised miniature worlds. Individual booths [and sets of headphones] makes the experience even more intimate; we have effectively made a theatre for one!

“The boxes [within the carousel] are handcrafted environments inhabited by over 500 3D printed characters. Step 3D in Glasgow partnered with us, and a team of model makers has worked for the past six months hand-crafting each ‘world’.

“The storytelling came together much like a film. We had to think in ‘frames’, and this had a knock-on effect to recording the dialogue. We had an amazing cast who didn’t bat an eyelid when we pulled out a stopwatch at the top of each scene... and a very patient playwright who crafted the dialogue so that the visual and spoken worlds could marry perfectly.

“It’s with great sadness that I recall a conversation several years ago where we wondered if Flight would even still be [relevant]. It’s really important to us to humanise this issue: this is what motivated the design, the need to connect, one-to-one, with two brothers, who have names and faces, dreams and aspirations, and remarkable resilience and imagination."

Flight, 4-27 Aug, Church Hill Theatre & Studio
Nassim, 3-27 Aug (not 7,14, 21), Traverse Theatre
Real Magic, 22-27 Aug, The Studio, 22 Potterow