Edinburgh Fringe 2012
Alex Kelly, Chris Thorpe and Jorge Andrade have been collecting people’s stories from around the world – usually a story from each country – with a particular interest in replacements and fakes. Here, they dramatise a collection of the things they have heard about the world, in a performance which is at times moving, thought-provoking, angry, startling, wryly humourous and always fascinating.
Our view of the world is wrong, is incomplete, and is somehow lacking. Faster travel and communication are making the world into a smaller place, and yet also making it a bigger place, with more things and people and places that we are (individually) unlikely to encounter first-hand. In our heads we construct a picture of the world that is comfortable and that we can understand – it’s incomplete and probably downright misleading, but it’s what we do. We take images, ideas and stories from one part of the world (a country, for instance) and weave them together into ‘the world’. But we also tend to decide that if something happens in a distant place (like, say, people in South Korea eating dog), that it’s ‘the sort of thing’ that happens in that place. That remains the case whether these stories are true or not (if they aren’t, they still sound like ‘the sort of thing that happens in those places’, which has to make an audience question how they form opinions of faraway places).
That’s a point raised by What I Heard About The World, and also a trap it almost falls into. The show presents a version of the world informed largely by individual stories from different countries, and from a British/European perspective, and in doing so attempts to illustrate somewhere distant like Korea through a story of ‘the sort of thing’ that happens there. Luckily, in Korea’s case, there’s more than one story, so we get a more layered impression than with, say, Iran, where the single story gives a monolithic impression.
They might not describe it as such, but the three men onstage are performing a heightened form of storytelling. It’s simple and direct in style, with little attempt made to dress things up in character or in any framing device; they often address the audience as themselves, or make light of the fact that they’re playing a part in a story by simply holding themselves a little differently. Andrade has the most success with this, playing several women through the course of the show, and also being the one to suffer when the stories call for pain or grief. That said, Thorpe provides the most (literally) gut-wrenching moment when he tries to down half a pint of salt water. Thorpe occasionally provides the guitar underscoring to the show, and the occasional song (his karaoke during a dramatisation of 1991’s Santa Cruz Massacre is one to especially watch out for).
The stories chosen – and the team have heard many over the years they’ve been collecting them – are varied, in terms of both content and location, but have in common the idea of something being faked or replaced. For instance, the US Army giving servicemen cardboard cutouts of themselves to leave with their families while they’re on active service. Geographically, it seems that stories have been chosen for their distance from the UK and Europe, lending the show an exotic feel to UK-audiences and contributing to the idea that we construct a world view based on singular ideas about complex and distant places.
Each of these glimpses of humanity reveals a little more about us as a species, and the whole cannot fail to be fascinating and thought-provoking, if unintentionally slanted toward a European audience. That this is presented with such easy grace, humour and self-awareness is an added bonus.