Edinburgh Fringe 2011
A strange dystopian jouney through Edinburgh’s glorious medical school in the company of multi-award winning Fringe heroes, Grid Iron. A site specific promenade performance, a walk on the dark side on the outer fringes of consciousness.
Somewhere between horror movie and dream sequence from David Lynch, David Paul Jones’s What Remains is a series of imaginings that take place at the periphery of our consciousness. Staged by Grid Iron, one of Britain’s leading site specific theatre companies, we take a tour around Edinburgh’s medical school transformed for the night into Gilbert Prendergast’s Conservatoire of the Anatomy of Music. Prendergast is a musical maestro who has turned his own musical talents to the search for the talent of the future. We are an new intake of students and the signs are that the last lot have not fared too well.
After a suitably impressive introduction from Prendergast in evening dress at a grand piano, we are taken on a tour of the building escorted by uniformed guides. Prendergast is all around us: his voice echoing on the air, his music, samples of his work: everywhere, his brooding presence. His is a huge ego which has become increasingly unhinged by the search for perfection. His love for music has taken over, subsuming all in its progress and rendering his students merely human fodder to make music, expendable where they do not meet his exacting standards. The distorting effects of obsession are like an unpleasant odour that lingers in the air.
Composer/performer, David Paul Jones, is convincing as the mad Prendergast who stalks the corridors and appears seemingly from nowhere. His piano playing is impeccable – and playful – and his soulful voice floats on the air haunting us with its beauty even as his behaviour becomes increasingly deranged. His eyes are mesmerising as they stare ours down and follow us everywhere.
Designer Ali MacLaurin has constructed a set of installations that are intriguing and stand alone as works of art. We are escorted from one to another and allowed to browse at our leisure. Medical rooms are transformed into uncomfortable domestic crime scenes with that familiar but nevertheless sinister striped police tape. We can peer into Prendergast’s childhood bedroom for the tell-tale signs. An empty room and a disembodied voice invite us to perform as piano candidates in Prendergast’s diabolical examination. A white cocooned dormitory is strangely reminiscent of Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and suitably unsetling.
What Remains for all its beauty and strange musings doesn’t add up to much and isn’t up to Grid Iron’s usual impeccably high standards. There are extravant moments that hit home but others which hit the bathos button. In spite of the hysterical musing and antics, the real star of the show is the music and the beautiful medical school and its artefacts. Site specific theatre needs to have a reason for being where it is and to exploit it so that we see it with new eyes or so that the play and its messages take on additional meaning. Unfortunately What Remains does neither.
There are elements of horror movie, of Phantom of the Opera and of musical theatre. However, ultimately as we wander the eerie corridors in groups escorted by our tour guides, the impulse to giggle outweighs any shiver down the spine.