Saturday, 10 August 2019

THEATRE REVIEW: Passengers - Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, Edinburgh.


Vacuum Theatre describe their new show ‘Passengers’ as a “dark comedy about the epic battles and alliances within the psyche and the beautiful power of the mind to protect itself from pain”. In many ways this is topical subject matter, as we increasingly ask ourselves how much the mind controls our experience of life (a huge amount, many would suggest.) Written by award-winning writer of ‘Testosterone’ Kit Redstone, Passengers utilises the medium of ensemble theatre to ‘charter the labyrinth of the mind’ with the aim of helping it’s audience to review and reconsider their sense of self.

At the play’s outset we are introduced to 3 masked tracksuited figures using a stylised movement sequence to navigate a large scaffolding structure, with a song ‘Time And Time Again’ pumping out with a distinctive early '90s dance feel. This already has the sense of something that demands its audience to sit up and take notice - a sense of both the extraordinary and unexpected.

Indeed Vacuum Theatre are committed to putting the audience at the centre of their work describing it as “surreal, playful and provocative theatre that is typified by direct address.” Thus we are placed at the heart of the play and addressed mostly through narration about the life of its protagonist ‘Max’ who finds himself in a tea room one day, in his ‘unemployed’ role as a wannabe writer, amongst Earl Grey tea-sipping old ladies and a man with a poodle. He is accidentally given the wrong sandwich by the waiter which without warning causes him to smash his chair into the window. As panic ensues and even the poodle cowers in fear, Max realises he “created this chaos, this glory.” And not least a sense of paranoia creeps over him: “What kind of a person behaves like this?”

Through continued direct address, physical theatre and the odd - often competitive interaction between the 3 brilliant performers - we learn other facts of Max’s life and the workings of his mind to attempt to overcome the challenges that he is presented with. University? He doesn’t need it. Employment? He leaves before they fire him. Losing friends? He makes new ones. Feels pretty dreadful? He takes heroin in a car park. Needs a new life? He is in California making himself an ‘Avocato’ in a white silk dressing gown. OR … he lives off-grid with a mattress in his van stealing food and cooking squirrels on a fire. OR … in a gated cul-de-sac travelling to work with the same Pret salad every day. The solutions created by the mind are endless.

The inspiration for the show came from Redstone’s personal exploration of Dissociative Identity Disorder and the theory of psychotherapist Derek Scott that everyone is made up of different personalities. He wanted to create a piece of theatre that bridged the gap between DID and a sense of self. Sounds complex? Yes it is - but it’s a great piece of theatre to get our complex minds ticking, drawing us into the workings of Max’s mind (with its many facets that could be any of us). ‘Passengers’ is a completely unique, highly developed, experimental piece of theatre which I suspect will win numerous awards in its own right.

‘Passengers’ runs at the Red Lecture Theatre, Summerhall until August 25th.

Reviewer - Georgina Elliott
on - 9/8/19

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