Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
4 stars ****
Traverse@University Of Edinburgh Medical School (Venue 132)
3 stars ***
ONCE, THE APPLIANCE of science was the keystone of our culture, the rational endeavour that powered western civilisation to its dominant position across the globe. Now, though, our comprehensive loss of trust in science seems like a symptom of decline; and if you want to see the reasons for that loss of confidence dramatised with great sensitivity, or with wild theatrical energy, then you could do worse than head along to these two new shows by leading Fringe companies.
Analogue Theatre’s 2401 Objects, at the Pleasance, is a short, beautifully-sculpted 55-minute show, based on the true story of a man known as “Patient HM”, who – back in 1953, at the age of 27 – was subected to radical brain surgery in the United States in an effort to treat his severe epilepsy. As a result of the operation, HM lost almost all of his memory, spending the rest of his long life in an institution; and in 2009, after his death, his brain was sliced into 2401 thin pieces by another medical team, in order to analyse what it could tell us about memory and recollection.
Written by Lewis Hetherington, directed by Liam Jarvis and Hannah Barker, and performed with superb energy and restraint by a four-strong company led by Sebastien Lawson as young Henry and Melody Grove as the women in his life, 2401 Objects is an understated and outstandingly gentle piece of theatre. Yet in less than an hour, it succeeds – through a quietly inventive combination of live action, amplified narrative, and simple but powerful visual imagery – in creating a memorable portrait not only of a kind and lovely man bereft by overweening science of one of the key elements of a meaningful human life; but also of the whole middle-class 1950’s society that surrounded him, at the turning-point of his life – its joys, its silences, and its intense, aspirational respectability, now so long gone, beyond the horizon of history.
David Paul Jones’s What Remains – staged by Grid Iron and the Traverse at Edinburgh University‘s historic Medical School – is a wildly extravagant and uneven show by comparison, a sustained hour of bravura performance in which Jones, with designer Ali Maclaurin, sets about deconstructing and undermining the fierce patriarchal structures of authority through which learning was traditionally imparted, not least here in Edinburgh.
Jones’s point – expressed in a rich series of musical interludes and haunting physical installations, set around two floors of the Medical School – is that in the end, sadistic authoritarianism destroys the spirit of learning and enlightenment, whether in the fictional music academy of the show, or in the building that surrounds us. He expresses it, though, through such a wild and playful mix of tragic poetry, feeble comedy, horror-film spoofery, and theatrical self-indulgence, that he often undermines the force of his own ideas; and lets the audience off the emotional hook, as if they had seen nothing but a lightweight horror-movie, sending itself up for a laugh.
Both shows until 28 August
pp. 307, 310