17 Border Crossings
4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)
IT MAY BE one of the most elegant shows on the Fringe, this 75-minute monologue by director, actor and designer Thaddeus Phillips; perhaps almost too elegant for its theme, which focusses on the supermely topical story of people trying to cross borders, openly or in secret, and with or without official approval.
Using just a chalkboard backdrop and a single lowered gantry of lights – along with his own compelling text and stage presence – Phillips takes us with him from the early 1990’s to the present day, on crossings between Hungary and Serbia, Angola and the UK, Eilat and Aqaba, Morocco and Colombia, and many, many more. Appropriately enough, since he is American, he finishes his journey on the border between the United States and Mexico; and there he meets Pablo, a kind of surrealist migrant trapped in a semi-permanent limbo betwen the two countries, who might stand for all the millions who find themselves in that position today, suspended between the the old life and the new, and between life and death.
In the end, there’s something about Phillips’s calm observation of all this that seems just too detached for comfort, too much like a very rich form of travel-writing; there’s plenty of understanding, but no rage or desperation. As a source of powerful, vivid storytelling, though, Phillips’s show is both enjoyable and elightening; more of a backdrop to the current migrant crisis than a direct response to it, but still well worth experiencing, for its wisdom, its poise, and its long view of a subject that now requires all the calm sense of perspective we can muster.