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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow An Afternoon of Playback Theatre
An Afternoon of Playback Theatre
Published on Wednesday, 14 August 2013

3 stars

Sweet Grassmarket (venue website)
12-17 Aug, 2:35pm-3:35pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Playback Theatre ever since I first heard about it, a couple of years ago. Part show, part group discussion, the idea is to invite the audience to describe scenes from their lives – and then for actors trained in specific techniques, accompanied by a musician, to enact them immediately on the stage. I’m not sure it quite holds together as a show, but it’s well worth considering as an interesting diversion from the mainstream of the Fringe.

As the audience offered up their brief stories, around the suggested theme of “this summer”, the actors’ interpretations ranged from the relatively literal to the pleasantly free-handed.  I particularly enjoyed their portrayal of the frustrations of trying to walk down a busy street, which used coloured cloth to create an abstract but completely recognisable image of a slow-moving crowd.  The style’s perhaps a little reminiscent of comedy improv, but it’s subtler and more delicate than that: there’s less emphasis on clever lines and guessing games, and much more on capturing the (admittedly, often comedic) essence of a scenario.

But I wanted to see what they’d do with a more serious starting point – so I put my own hand up, and told them about the day this summer when I suddenly heard that a friend of mine had died.  After stumbling my way through a couple of respectful questions, I sat back and watched, while the performers improvised a kind of restless poem imagining the thoughts in my own mind.  As you’d expect, the experience was a powerful one: the scene they created wasn’t at all like what had actually happened, but they’d still perfectly captured what I’d actually felt.

The problem is, of course, that I was the only person in the room who can have had that particular reaction to that particular story – and entirely unsurprisingly, I never felt the same sense of connection with other people’s tales.  That’s why I’m not sure this really works as a Fringe show; I’d have got a lot more out of it if I’d been with a group of people I knew, or at least wanted to know better, rather than a crowd of strangers.  The format of the event also means there’s little opportunity for the performers to develop an emotional progression or to build any kind of a theme.

So all in all, I’m glad I went along – and I’m glad I had the courage to offer something, because I got something special back in return.  I should stress, however, that there’s no pressure to tell a sensitive story, or indeed any story at all.  And the final word has to go to the facilitator, Tig Land – whose gentle and reassuring questions are so crucial in finding the heart of the tales to be told.

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