Edinburgh Fringe 2009
White Man’s Burden
Venue: The Melting Pot
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
This is theatre at its absolute best, one of the most inventive and original productions I have had the pleasure of seeing in recent years, and something truly special. Based on Yoko Ono’s "Cut Piece", a man is presented on stage, along with a pair of scissors, and the audience is encouraged to cut his suit directly from his body.
This audience participation is what makes this piece so gob-smackingly original. The fourth wall is constantly constructed and destroyed as various audience members get up the courage to stand up and take part, and the piece can go in any direction from the word go. This directness, this participatory enthusiasm, is the piece’s crowning glory, as the reaction to the suit-cutting goes from engagement to uneasiness. The more of the suit is removed, the more of the lone, frail man beneath is revealed, and the audience faces a balancing act between creativity and loneliness, destruction and pity. This is powerful stuff, and so elegantly simple and sublime.
This audience participation also means that each performance is nearly entirely different, which is part of what makes this piece so novel. It could be staged anywhere, even outside of traditional theatre spaces. Depending on who is involved, what actually happens in the piece is entirely malleable. Everything about it is based on the audience’s involvement, and so reminds heavily of Augusto Boal’s work, without seeming derivative or tried and tested.
The only aspect of the piece that is not malleable in this way is the soundscape behind it. A beautiful collection of pieces, the sound directly influences and describes the action, adding thematic content simply and effectively. Combining political commentary, rain effects and recitations of Rudyard Kipling’s "White Man’s Burden", the soundscape takes the piece beyond its own theatricality, and adds to the mix a heady mixture of political activism and comment, a perfect accompaniment to the action. With this in place, the piece becomes more than just a fascinating experiment: it is a total performance.
This is exciting stuff, and rightly so. Bringing true inventiveness to theatre, possibly even creating a new and fascinating genre, this is remarkable and unforgettable theatre, both to watch and experience. Look out for Alchemy and White Man’s Burden, this is a piece worth travelling to see.