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Alas, poor Yorick, I knew him well! Live stage shows in Central Scotland, be they Shakespeare or avant-garde.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017: The End, the End, the End… @ Venue 13

What the Edinburgh Fringe website says:

New international multimedia ensemble from 7 countries and 6 U.S. states collages their exiles in America into a survival ritual calling the audience to arms. Facing end of the world paranoia, labour of remembering is the only weapon against entropy. To find home, to discover utopia, the tribe generates meaning from a web of memory and prophecy. Blood-pumping rhythm of pop iconography, stories of displacement, and operatic political manifestoes alchemise with real-time multimedia machines into tomorrow’s revolution. Through polyphonic togetherness, ‘outsiders in a land of outsiders’ turn America inside out, debunking myths of otherness.

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A strange mixture

This confrontational piece of experimental theatre starts outside the venue as the mixed race ensemble greets the audience. One is a Peruvian who is dressed like a military dignitary and marches like a robot while shouting “How to kill the world! How to save the world!” over and over. Another is a Nigerian who takes me aside and asks me to close my eyes and imagine myself as a Kuwaiti school girl living in America. There are others: a transgender, a Chilean, a Chinese and so on.

When we go inside the cast assemble on stage for a strange mixture of dances, monologues, singing, audience interaction and more - often simultaneously. A video is projected on the back wall to accompany the on-stage action with clips from films and cartoons, YouTube videos, snippets from online news reports, a Chilean 1988 plebiscite propaganda video and so on. Teddy Ruxpin also makes an appearance…

Inspires a wide range of feelings

It’s hard to know what to make of The End, the End, the End…, and I suspect that opinions about it will vary hugely from individual to individual. It’s colourful and attention-grabbing, but it’s also baffling, surreal and disconcerting - the kind of avant-garde piece which would find its ideal home playing at Summerhall for example. I felt rather like I was pulled into one of those unusually intense and batshit-crazy dreams that I experience every now and again (maybe you experience those too… or is it just me?) That, or maybe an Alejandro Jodorowsky film on amphetamines.

Despite the strangeness, there is a clear message and manifesto that emerges: one of an America that truly embraces and is defined its diverse population, one where true change comes not from the top-down vision of a new president, but from the bottom-up vision of popular revolution. Let’s face it: America (and the modern world in general) needs to change radically and needs to do so in a people-driven manner. Whether such a change can and will happen though, is another matter.

What’s the verdict?

Going back to its whole approach as an experimental play, however, I’m not sure that it’s entirely successful. While I’m tempted to use the “p” word - pretentious - I really can’t since there is a clear sincerity underpinning it the production, as opposed to some pompously abstruse attempt to be oh-so-arty. The fundamental issue a lot of the time is that there is too much clutter in terms of overlapping voices, noises, visuals and actions. It’s hard to know exactly where to focus; even some of the technical staff (sitting at the side of the stage) seem to be part of the performance at times. Couple this with the fact that the dialogue flits between English and Spanish (I know very little of the latter) and it’s easy to end up at destination Information Overload Central.

One thing I can say is that the play clearly had an unusual effect on the audience I attended with: once it had finished everyone remained sat down, silent, for around a minute until it sank in that The End, the End, the End… had indeed ended. I detected an enforced blur between where real life ended and play began when the costumed performers came outside the venue and interacted with us in the queue before we entered. This blur was also present at the end - albeit in a rather different form - as the technical staff started to pack away before one remaining actor had finished their performance. I was truly thrown off-guard by this, and I think the rest of the audience was, too.

Well… it was partially that, and partially the fact that the whole production was so overwhelming - both in a good and a bad way.

Rating: ☆☆☆

Tickets are available from the following link:

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 logo

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