Browse reviews

Edinburgh Fringe 2013

The System

African Tree Productions

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: Just the Big Room - Just the Tonic at the Caves


Low Down

After an exciting prison escape, three convicted men try to find safety and a way to clear their names. As the hour progresses you learn about their pasts and the circumstances leading to their incarceration through a vivid and intricately-planned physical performance that keeps you at the edge of your seat with baited breath. With thought-provoking insights into South African society and the problems people face it maintains a remarkable physical lightheartedness that accompanies even the most dramatic of scenes


The System is a five-person show that follows three men after their escape from prison as they desperately try to avoid capture while agonising over how to clear their names. Utilising a perfectly-sized stage for the performance the actors switch seamlessly between roles, props, and set pieces. While the story is gripping and the script well-written the true gems of this performance are the actors themselves who deliver a clear range of acting abilities. Seeing one single person able to brilliantly portray so many diverse characters complete with vastly different facial expressions, movements, postures, voices, and styles of communication was a true pleasure. So when you multiply that by five for each of the performers on stage this show becomes an unexpected fountain of talent to say the least. 

Not only can they jump between characters on a dime but as the scenes change rapidly (a lot of story is fit into this hour) they instantly become set pieces and props with just as much talent and ease as they do changing characters. All five performers are on the stage for the full duration of the performance and not a single person is wasted in a single scene. The complete lack of physical props and set is more than compensated by the clever sound effects and harmonised music that come directly from the mouths of the performers. At times the sounds they made were so brilliantly clever to accompany their imaginative (or bodily) props or movements that the audience could not help but laugh and applaud the pure creativity.  Each movement is intricately planned and thought-out so not a second of time or inch of space was wasted. Even though there were no physical pieces to the show other than the performers their clever use of body and sound combined to trigger the imagination splendidly. 
The staging was just as meticulous as the actors’ movements and there was a clear sense that each member of the group knew exactly what part of their body needed to go where and how the scene needed to move around the stage. Lighting was also effectively utilised as the only accompaniment to the performers themselves. They made excellent use of the stage to deliver various sensations to the audience. As an audience member I could feel the claustrophobic grip as scenarios became more intense, I could enjoy the humour at the lighthearted moments, and I could sympathise with the characters as their circumstances became more clear and I came to know and understand them as people lost in an unfeeling world. Considering all of that was achieved within only a short hour I cannot help but applaud the mastery behind the performance. Sometimes you can have a good story but the delivery falls short while other times you can have an average plot that is delivered spectacularly. In this instance you have a gripping, well written story that manages to constantly change between locations and moments in time that is also masterfully delivered by the five-person cast. The only improvements I could possibly suggest would be for slightly clearer annunciation as some pieces of dialogue were lost to me in the quick pace of the show and occasional rapid delivery of script.
I found the performance vivid and exhilarating. While I normally prefer comedy and tend to avoid drama this piece combined the two wonderfully with humorous scenes and clever physical comedy accompanying the intense underlying stories and themes explored. Any performance that manages to portray chase scenes, driving scenes, fine dining scenes, and even a sex-in-the-shower scene utilising no more or less than exactly five human bodies and voices is a feast for the eyes. When you add to that the fact that within a short period of time you are taken on an exciting journey into the pasts of these characters to the extent you can understand and empathise with them, this performance becomes truly brilliant. The pure creativity, excellent delivery, and wide acting range and versatility of the performers makes this show a memorable and intelligent piece that I highly recommend.     


Show Website