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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Cosmic Fear or The Day Brad Pitt Got Paranoia

Empty Deck

Genre: Drama, Theatre

Venue: The Bedlam


Low Down

Three flatmates try to dispel their despair about global warming and the impending ecopalypse by making a home movie of Brad Pitt making the ultimate Hollywood blockbuster to save the world.  An ambitious script and production keeps you watching if not totally engaged.


Global warming is the most important issue of our time. So why do a show about anything else? But then again why just do a show about global warming? Surely there is more that we can do, actions we can take? Or maybe there isn’t. Maybe it’s just all too late. Maybe it was all too late several years or even decades ago and all that is left to us is to discover the mechanisms we have already set in train which will slowly destroy us in an ecological damnation of our own making and deserving.

Maybe I have gone a little further down the path of despair than the opening salvo of Cosmic Fear, but essentially this show begins with a blank bleak statement of the inevitability of ecopalypse and continues from there into an energetically delivered manic tale of three flatmates imagining Brad Pitt trying to save the world by making the ultimate Hollywood blockbuster. Along the way there is a lot of polemic spoken into a microphone, and a lot of running about and donning of costumes and handling of props, plus bits of video shot on location and on stage via an i-phone. There is also a fragment of a love story, which kind of brackets the rest of the play.

But on the whole both the play by Danish playwright Christian Lollike and Empty Deck’s production try too hard to be innovative and end up a bit of a mess. The three capable actors work hard throughout, and one feels a bit of sympathy both for them and for their characters, but neither performers nor characters really engaged with me and I left the show feeling confused, unsatisfied and a little depressed.

The play itself is simply too ambitious, seeming to want to shoehorn an essay about the psychology of feeling powerless in the face of impending global doom into a genre-defying (self-proclaimed absurdist but in fact rather befuddled) drama and this production fails to marshal the writer’s unfocussed extravagances but instead adds some more of its own. Which is a shame, because somewhere in all of this there is a thought-provoking and moving production trying to get out.

My two main criticisms concern the pacing and the audience address.

From the beginning and for the first twenty minutes or more, the pace is frenetic and I yearned for some variety, for some quiet moments, some breathers for audience and cast. These did eventually come but their significance was lost to me amid the barrage of didacticism and the meandering plot. The forced pace also lead to a sense that lines were being delivered rather than brought to life.

It is a pet hate of mine to see actors facing forward and speaking as if they are addressing the audience, but in fact their eye line is over the audience’s heads. It is a cop out which is easy to spot and (if director and cast have the bravery) easy to correct. Sometimes it is the fault of an individual actor – that they haven’t quite got the bottle to look the audience in the eyes – but here it is the director’s mistake and in a way it exemplifies why this show didn’t work for me. For all the elements thrown into the mix in the quest for innovation, it seems to have forgotten to engage with the audience.

Towards the end there are a couple of simple and memorably touching moments. Jack Gordon delivers a story about acid rain, and (at last) the director allows the actor to simply tell it gently and, yes, directly into the audience’s eyes. And Jessica Sian manages to squeeze some genuine human feeling into the conclusion of the underwritten love story. But (like our efforts to save the planet and ourselves) these fleeting gestures are too little too late.

So is it possible to tackle the issue of global warming in a way that is innovative without being confusing, informative without being depressing and moving without being disingenuous? Can Brad Pitt or Empty Deck really save the world? Let’s hope so… or we’re all f*cked.

Or maybe, just maybe, that last paragraph indicates that Cosmic Fear was a success after all – that being confronted with one’s own confusion, despondency and insincerity in the face of the imminent suicide of our species is a necessary step towards effecting a change and avoiding the inevitable. Maybe…

(This review was written by George Dillon and posted to FringeReview by the Editor, Paul Levy)