Edinburgh Fringe 2017
The meeting of AA is held, like many others across the UK, in a small room which is out of the way but close to the bustle of life. We begin, as is the tradition with the chair having to find people to read before the top table shares. After that share, as it is an open meeting, people are invited to share should they wish. A few do and the simmering discontent and resentments flow out – just like any other meeting before we try and find the serene nature of our programme through prayer.
There is a delicious irony in reviewing a performance that reminds me early on of the Yellow Card of AA. That card tells me what I see here, when I leave her, I have to let it stay here. So, as one of my AA chums used to say, I wasn’t here, nor were you and nobody said anything whilst they weren’t in the room. And at that I might leave the review…
But not a bit of it.
This took the format of a meeting and made something dramatic out of it. I was not alone in this performance and had brought along a friend from work who had an inkling of the work of AA, but had never been to an “actual meeting” before. After 10 minutes, I could not catch her eye as she thought I had “actual brought he to an actual AA meeting” and I was going to die a very slow death at her hands on the way home. Then it got interesting and yes, the set up was that good.
I shall not spoil any surprises or the narrative that follows but let’s just say, having set up the meeting, it then has drama to help keep you on the edge of your plastic seats.
Just like a normal AA meeting the format got interrupted by late comers and people had to make room to allow those people access to recovery and the performances were able to accommodate any unscheduled blip. This was an assured and confident piece that benefitted greatly from the testimony of real AA members being told. That authenticity with the imperfections of the stories, the identification of their commonalities and the resentments of the fragility of recovery in a safe place were covered beautifully.
But whether or not it worked as a pretend AA meeting is neither here nor there; it gets judged as theatre. As a piece of theatre, therefore, it was immersive theatre at its best; never conscious of itself and totally caught in its own importance. Without nervousness over the effects and able to hold the room in silence when it needed to it had a solid and secure direction throughout which allowed the performances to show a vulnerability that carried the authenticity from the plastic nature of the chairs to the very real and fractured nerve endings of their occupants.
With a limited run and limited seats this should be caught as soon as possible. It is hidden across form the hustle and the bustle of the Pleasance and with quiet contemplation, those who are trying so hard to capture an audience would do well to catch a meeting and contemplate how effortless truly hard work can appear. It also served to remind me that AA coffee is still the best coffee, even pretend AA coffee.