Brighton Fringe 2018
“In 2017, Josh Gardner saved Europe by reenacting Frodo’s journey to Mordor. He travelled from Oxford to Istanbul dressed as a hobbit. Mixing documentation, story telling and an anarchic approach to performance, Josh interrogates privilege and migration through the use of the absurd. The Laud of The Rings is a provocative and moving performance that follows one man’s desperate attempt to live out a fantasy. Venture into a world of silly wigs, plastic feet, Serbian border police and Macedonian opera, as reality and fiction collide in an epic retelling of your favourite book/movie trilogy”
Josh Gardner first came to my attention in a deserted, free venue at the Edinburgh Fringe a few years ago. In fact the venue was so literally free it was devoid of chairs.
One was found for me as this solo theatre show that was solo for two reasons. One, he was the only performer and two, I was the only audience member. In the hour that was to follow, based on the letters of his great-grandfather in the First World War, a well penned and competenly delivered piece impressed me to highly recommend the show. Josh Gardner is a quiet soul, he rarely overdoes things and his performances rely less on the drama and more on the human.
A few years later Europe has continued to embrace the Age of Men, environment-gobbling industry and the corruption and capitulation to bureaucracy and media control of those who would see themselves as the white wizards of progress has flourished. Hobbiton has become the land of Mordor. Now you may be frowning in confusion if you haven’t read or seen Lord of the Rings. It really helps to have done so if you haven’t seen this. That said, a quick Google of a summary of the epic fantasy tale by J.R.R TOkien will suffice.
And thats where this actor turned hobbit sets off on a hairy-footed journey across Europe to save her from the darkness and the orcs of social media and the dark lord Corruption.
A filmed journey. A breakdown-inducing journey, an encounter with kindness and pecking crows, Josh Gardner returns with a story and books at slot at the Fringe … There and back again. But is the story a complete thing, a resolving thing? Or does truer healing cine, not from the experiencing of the journey but in telling the story of it…
Aye, but there’s the rub; for to tell a story in theatre form could mean a surrender to the rules, that same hierarchical bureaucracy in the often fixed European theatre form. So this hobbit returns and casts the Books of Must and Should unto the Fires of Mount Doom and makes an anarchic show that says ‘no’ to the dogmatic forms of theatre and comedy performance.
This is a show that isn’t afraid to break all of the rules of theatre and comedy. That’s what I was thinking halfway through the hour inside the Burrow, (which, ironically, is a venue that feels like the inside of a lorry that could carry you illegally and uncomfortably from Istanbul to Calais for thousands of Euros – we only part with a tenner). By the end I concluded: No, this is a show that doesn’t accept that those rules exist in the first place.
What we are offered is the ‘extra bit’ in his story, the theatre equivalent to the literary ‘Scouring of the Shire’ (dumped from the movie, chapters, rather long in the original book). The show itself is Gardner’s return to Hobbiton (always in the UK in Tolkien’s inspiration and imagination). How do you pick up a former life? I wonder (I hope not ominously) what his Grey Havens will be? Gardner’s journey across Europe parallellls the journey in Tolkien’s epic, some uncanny parallels are drawn in fact, and yet there are differences. Those differences may leave us throughly entertained, discombobulated, and yet also a bit unresolved. Yet perhaps that is another of our host’s intentions – to leave us as unresolved as he is. I found myself thanking him, even as he squashed against me in his inflated, bodybag see-through space ship, out of the room into the cramped, and crowded, all-too earthbound Warren, that was supposed to represent outer space, leaving an audience who wanted to follow another rule and applaud him (but weren’t allowed to as he abandoned us), and two audience member volunteers who were also left behind after 50 mnutes onstage, (relieved only by the compassionate donation of a glass of winefrom an audience member).
As reviewerr I realised I am probably not the wise Gandalf I thought I was in these proceedings, but instead a mediocre, disempowered Orc, a bit part in this man’s epic, madcap tale. I have no complaints at all. I haven’t enjoyed such a triumph of accomplished unaccomplishment for three stinking Fringes, though that very roughness may bother a few in the audience.
And here at the end of all things, as I am being suffocated by a very profound and funny performer, unable to get to the end of the Road by his inflatable finale, I applaud this endeavour, and realise that, for this man who once told stories of the trenches and then trekked in slippers to Mordor, the road goes on, ever ever on. Good luck Mr Frodo.