Edinburgh Fringe 2011
What would happen if you could pause life? Literally freeze the bodily vessel that carries the mind and consciousness? This is the central conceit of Your Last Breath, a new piece of theatre by Curious Directive, their first for the Edinburgh Fringe.
Four different stories concentrate on different aspects of this idea. In 2034, a young man unveils a piece of medical technology that will revolutionise treatment of trauma patients by lowering their body temperature and slowing down their metabolism – literally freezing life. The inspiration for this technology is in the true story of Anna, a skier who is in 1999 trapped under the ice on a Norwegian mountain, her body freezing and her heart stopping, but who survived. Meanwhile in 1876, a cartographer makes a map of a remote part of Norway, and in 2011 Freija travels to the same place to scatter her father’s ashes. Slowly, connections between each strand are revealed.
An interesting premise, and the theatre company uses stylised movement, videography and live accompaniment to tell it. All the ingredients are right, but something about it didn’t gel for me. There is a lot of ground to cover in an hour, and I tend to think that just addressing emotive material like death isn’t a reason to expect an audience to form an emotional connection. The 2034 character has a conversation to his mother’s grave that leaves a lot of detail for the audience to fill in – but I found myself not really caring enough for the character to do so, and this happened a few times. The connections between each storyline are rather naff, recognisable tropes, and the whole thing ended up feeling very paint-by-numbers. Curious Directive’s website says that it aims to communicate about science through theatre, and it is the central scientific idea of suspending the body’s animation – as happened with skier Anna and also, we learn, in a certain variety of frog – is definitely the most engaging thing about this piece. I would have liked to have more meditation on that idea and the things it could achieve if such technology were possible.
This is a tightly rehearsed piece, and the audience was very appreciative. Curious Directive are clearly a talented bunch who hold a lot of potential as a group; this show has simply tried a bit too hard to use a lot of theatrical devices to explore its theme, with the result being a general air of undergrad play-building. This show would benefit immensely from being pared back and simplified, but it certainly puts out a compelling questions.