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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

The Living Room

Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards

Genre: Devised, Physical Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Summerhall



This is a fascinating performance by the Workcenter of Jerzy Grotowski and Thomas Richards. Richards collaborated with Growoski, now he leads the international, renowned company and also performs in this show. With a title of  The Living Room, it makes sense that the location should look like a living room. And as the company’s first visit to the Edinburgh Fringe they are performing in Rose Bruford’s space at Summerhall.

We enter a very elegant, spacious and airy living room – complete with several comfortable sofas and a variety of chairs, old and new. It’s very appealing to the eye and then the senses as the hosts offer us coffee, tea, petit fours….it’s a lovely welcome!

The seven or so actors from the company including Richards are our hosts and as if after arriving at someone’s home for a gathering, guests look around,  chat and someone may tell a story or two. Our genteel hosts do just that, subtly at first, and then in full performative mode, much like a person laughing out loudly at another’s stories, that happens at most parties.

This being the Grotowski Center’s work, the show’s foundation is through physical and vocal theatre. Their training is based on movement and singing – expressing through the voice and body. One of the actors told me after that they are not about learning how to be the best singers, but more about living the moment through vocal expression. Their singing and movement is extremely free, open and exceptional in the grounded sound and emotional quality produced. Often they are directing their focus to one or two actors or an audience member and the joy or raw emotion deepens and goes beyond what seems possible – or what we are used to from performers that we have experienced.

This setting and the Growtoski Center’s research based theme of “how the potentialities of performance craft can both enrich and be enriched by daily interpersonal relations and realities” prompts them to pose the question “How can our room come alive?”

It’s a provocative question and the company has created a unique sensory experience for the viewer or participant. Interacting with and among the audience immediately creates an intimate setting with people who either know each other or are strangers. Yet the otherness of the style of this performance – each person arrives and is personally greeted by the hosts – evokes a situation that we are not expecting, yet we are aware of the social mores of meeting new people or sitting and waiting to interact as a guest at someone’s home.

The story develops and cleverly transitions into an Afro Haitian and Caribbean dynamic, which is full of song, characters and movement. The professional performers are focused, lithe and give everything. They are charming, inviting and committed to telling a story and offering an experience like no other at the EdFringe in ninety minutes.

Striking solos, duets and trios perform gesturally and vocally, without any music or sound effects. The level of investment of the performers is stunning and their joyous and emotive storytelling is special. In addition to the song there are brief words of dialog or meaningful poetic abstracts spoken by the actors in English. This is a cross between going to someone’s home for a gathering and visual and aural storytelling, but much better! There is depth and humanity in everything they do, so the theme of the performance has a range of emotion and touches the fibres of the soul.

It feels like a privilege to be part of this experience, which runs for a few days only. However, the Grotowski Workcenter is offering several other events in Edinburgh through the end of August – a show, films and a workshop at Summerhall – so look for their schedule, it is a great opportunity to see this company and become inspired!