Edinburgh Fringe 2013
Five performers. Five Rounds. Your vote. One survivor. Belgium’s multiple Fringe First-winning company Ontroerend Goed and Australia’s The Border Project put the power into your hands to vote for your favourite candidate amongst our five actors in an immersive exploration into the intricacies and traps of voting systems and mediatized democracy.
Handed a voting keypad as I entered the theatre, I felt a little like I had got the tickets for the X-Factor I had always dreamed of. I was going to have the power to decide what happened to the people onstage, it was up to me whether they had just five minutes of fame or hung in until the bitter end. Of course, in reality it wasn’t up to me at all, it wasn’t even up to me and the other eighty three people in the audience – a fact that Ontroerend Goed made perfectly clear in the subsequent hour.
Fight Night is an interesting show. As with other Ontroerend Goed productions I have seen, it is all about challenging the audience; shifting perceptions and questioning accepted truths. They have rewritten what theatre can be. There is no narrative, no storyline, but there are enough characters, plots and manipulations to rival a Shakespearean tragedy.
I don’t want to give away too much about the content of the show, as it develops and grows in a surprising way that could be ruined by a spoiler. However, I can say that it certainly caused me to look at the validity of the so called ‘democracy’ in which we live, and the cult of personality that dominates political life. Why do we choose to vote for the people we do? And what happens to the people whose candidate doesn’t get in?
Being asked to vote for the first candidate without ever having heard them speak or seen how they dress was our first task. We did not know why we were voting, did not know the person we were selecting, yet still the majority of the audience (myself included) mindlessly punched a number into our keypad. In fact, we never knew why we were voting, never discovered the basis on which we were supposed to be selecting a candidate, and this in itself strikes me as an apt metaphor for the voting that occurs within our real political system. Voting based not on policies (which may or may not be adhered to anyway), but on looks, or perceived levels of trustworthiness, or (apparent) absence of scandal. And of course the act of voting also goes beyond politics into the plethora of reality shows, where voting forms the backbone of the format. Fight Night references all of this, and lays bare its superficiality and arbitrariness.
Questions were constantly posed throughout the show, touching on morality, religion, and even referencing recent Occupy protests, asking; do you sacrifice your right to vote in order to make a stand against the system, or do you vote because it is our right, and has been hard won? I don’t know the answer, the answer was not provided, but Ontroerend Goed should be highly recommended for raising such issues in such an innovative and non-preachy way. This was a very political show, yet while I was watching it I felt as though I was playing, and part of the game.
My only critique was that the format of the show became quite tired quite quickly. It was minimalist, subdued and there was little in the way of music, showmanship or spectacle. I feel that these elements could have justifiably been explored in the context of the show, and may have livened up the structure and kept my interest a little better. On balance though, this was an expertly performed and impeccably crafted show, complex and challenging, and will no doubt come back to haunt me the next time I am standing pen-poised in a voting booth, preparing to make my mark.