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How to Disappear Completely and Never Be Found
Published on Thursday, 16 August 2012
5

5 stars

theSpace on the Mile (venue website)
Theatre
3-4, 6-11 Aug, 8:35pm-9:55pm
Reviewed by Will Howard

 Recommended for age 14+ only.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

You know, it’s funny how exhausting being an audience member can be. At the right show, sitting in the same spot for an hour or so can leave you as spent as running a marathon – or as emotionally fraught as seeing a loved one in pain. Coming out of How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found, I felt like I’d been hit by a bus, after a particularly bad break up. In a good way. This production belies its slightly facetious title to become almost frighteningly intense and genuinely challenging production, and by quite a large margin, it’s the best play that I’ve seen on the Fringe so far.

Telling the story of a marketing executive who’s losing his grip on life, being arrested for fraud and going on the run (yes, that old chestnut), How To Disappear Completely… sounds a little clichéd on paper. But its real triumph is in the presentation. For example, the main supporting character is the protagonist’s coroner. Who may or may not be real. Interested yet? You haven’t heard the half of it.

This is a play that places an awful lot of trust in its audience, essentially telling us to keep up, or absolutely nothing will make a lick of sense. This is a bold move under any circumstances… and combined with a plot that doesn’t entirely make sense until the very end, it’s asking a lot. But when it all comes together it feels like something earned – a reward from the play for paying attention, and not taking it lightly.

I like the fact that How To Disappear Completely doesn’t compromise, doesn’t spell things out for those who aren’t tuned in. It will, of course, irritate an awful lot of people, and it’s bound to polarise opinion: if you’re not grabbed in the first place and don’t feel engaged enough to keep up, you’ll end up disliking the play even more. It’s very difficult to argue with personal taste, but it warms my contrary little heart to see productions like this. I’d much rather take a risk and see something I might unconditionally love, than something I know I’ll like; and if you agree with that, dear reader, then I recommend How to Disappear Completely to you.

It’s not entirely perfect, as nothing ever is. Charlie, the lead character, isn’t actually all that interesting for the majority of the production. But all the way though he’s expertly portrayed, and if you don’t feel at least a shred of sympathy for him, you either must really hate the advertising industry or have a heart of coal. Some might also find it too funny to be taken seriously, though in my view the comedy and drama mix well: the script is fantastically sharp and witty, very dark without being mean-spirited for the sake of it. And Sophie the coroner steals every scene she’s in, with a mix of down-to-earth dead pan humour, and the fact she’s the closest thing the production has to a genuinely selfless character.

I try to avoid hyperbole in these reviews, but How To Disappear Completely and Never Be Found is utterly sublime from start to finish. The cast is spot-on, the script is alternately funny, exciting, touching and engaging, and I’ve not even touched on the minimalist staging and the complex themes which the production expertly weaves in. It’s not for everyone, far from it. But if you feel the need for something dark, funny, engaging – which crucially treats you like an intelligent human being – then I can’t recommend this play enough.

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FROM OUR ARCHIVES

These are archived reviews of shows from Edinburgh 2012.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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