Brighton Fringe 2017
Mobile is a shining example of Fringe theatre at its best. Progressive in both subject matter and use of technology, with a strong performance that supports the quality of the writing.
Mobile is the story of Catherine, a working class girl, and how she came to be living in the caravan in which the show is set. It is also a look at social mobility, using both a fictitious storyline and verbatim interviews to make it’s point.
The show starts with the audience gathered outside outside the caravan, with Catherine getting to know the eight attendees – this is an intimate performance space so tickets are limited. The narrative is clever – intertwining both Catherine’s story with heartfelt real-life interviews, and making full use of the technologically advanced set. As Catherine reveals her ambitions and her progress so far, we hear testimonials from working class people who have achieved some degree of success in their field. The contrast with Catherine is stark, and being this close to the action really brings home the reality of the situation.
In any one-person show, the performance of the individual is fundamental to its success or otherwise. In a one-person show in a confined space, there is no room for error, and Shona Cowie’s performance was flawless. Naturalistic dialogue was delivered believebly, and the audience were made to feel that they really were inside someone’s home.
The performance space is a technological wonder to behold. Upon entering, it looks like any other caravan. Importantly, it was warm and welcoming for the audience. Clearly, both performance space and audience comfort have been well considered in the construction of the set. Three windows are covered by computer screens, which at times transport the caravan to new places. Every item in the space serves a purpose. Projection is used against the back wall, interviews are played through various household appliances, and even the microwave is used in a unique way to move the story forward. The lighting state is ever-changing, and smoothly assists the scene changes.
Mobile is a great contribution to Fringe theatre, setting the bar for site-specific performances. This is truly progressive theatre, both in a technological sense, and in presenting a divisive subject to theatre audiences.
In a space this intimate, the audience could not be anything other than engaged. At one point I played a game of Connect 4 with Catherine, although aside from an offer of biscuits as we took our seats, this was the extent of any physical interaction with the performance.
Coming from a working-class background myself, and having failed to reach the levels of success detailed in many of the verbatim monologues, I related to many of Catherine’s thoughts. That said, there were times when I was so engrossed in the physical environment that I missed some key story moments. This is not a criticism of the performer, far from it, it’s just that there was so much going on that I found it a little overwhelming to take everything in. My friend, however, had no such problems, and filled me in accordingly afterwards. If there is a criticism here, it’s that I left without a clear picture of Catherine’s story. Some of the physical theatre style changes between scenes also grated slightly. In this in-your-face environment, using traditional theatrical physicality to illustrate scene changes felt unnecessary, as the technology in the space did this for us. It was too much of a contrast to the intimacy and realism of the space, and created a temporary barrier between performer and audience.
The programme notes state that The Paper Birds (the production company behind Mobile) would like the audience to “…be a part of the show; sitting alongside us and questioning if social mobility is on the increase or decline. If we are held back by our birth place or schooling. If we should be proud or embarrassed of where we have come from.” I have to say that I didn’t discover anything new within this performance. But then in being from a similar background to the main character, the fact that it all felt so familiar to me must be taken as a compliment. The questions asked may be more pertinent for the archetypal middle-class theatre audience, though Mobile is worth seeing for the multimedia experience alone.
Mobile is a fantastic experience. It is without doubt a piece of truly progressive theatre, and credit must be given to the entire production team for a very complex set-up that ran perfectly. This is multimedia, site-specific theatre at its best. Truly a must-see.