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Edinburgh Fringe 2015

The Free Meditation Class


Genre: New Writing, Solo Show, Storytelling

Venue: Laughing Horse @ Moriaties (Venue 332)


Low Down

An intriguing hour provoking you to think about contemporary spiritual trends in a show that considers how they may, or may not, contribute to narcissism and political apathy in the Western world.


This is the sort of a show that you only find at the Fringe. Josh Gardner  weaves politics, spirituality and the banjo through storytelling and elements of meditation. The focus is on contemporary spiritual trends and considers how they may, or may not, contribute to narcissism and political apathy in the Western world.

His starting point is that meditation can reinforce either violence or political apathy in the western world and questions how that might be happening in our society. How people might think they are doing something good and peaceful and essentially individual but in practice be contributing to violence.

At the core is the story of Jan Palach, a Czech philosophy student who admired Buddhism and yet set fire to himself in January 1969 in protest against  the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. In his suicide note, which Gardner asks a volunteer from the audience to read, he signs himself ‘Torch number one’ suggesting he is part of a wider movement, although in reality he was not asking others to follow him.

As a show it is a unique experience. Although the title suggests a class in meditation or about meditation, it is a theatre piece. At the same time there are moments where we are invited to meditate, to breathe and to consider our breathing, to reflect on our reactions. To do that was a reminder of how head bound and intellectual we can be in our approach to theatre. The ways in which we dissect and analyse the things that we see rather than allow ourselves to respond with our gut. And, having responded, not to judge, just feel. There are several points where Gardner engages with the audience and the tiny venue contributes to the sense of being inside the show as much as watching it.

Gardner is warm and engaging throughout as he tells us what to expect and moves between the story, music and meditation. The story of Jan Palach is quite sparse and, for those unfamiliar with it, might have been a little too sparse. I would happily have heard more about him.

The moments where we are invited to meditate, to reflect on our feelings are delivered via a cassette recorder and I found the sound a little harsh in comparison to Gardner’s spoken voice. This may have been intentional to provide contrast. It is perhaps a point to consider as the show develops in response to audience feedback.

The venue is a little out of the way (Lothian Rd, near the Traverse) but ideal in that it is a basement theatre area and much quieter than the free venues often are. There is no intruding traffic or bar noise which helps a show like this where absorption is important. Having said that, the show I attended proved to be challenging– there was a small audience with two late arrivals who were then fidgety. Gardner coped well and didn’t appear to be distracted but I’m sure it did affect the energy of the piece.

Overall, an intriguing piece that left me thinking about the rhetoric surrounding meditation (and looking up more about Jan Palach).