Edinburgh Fringe 2018
Arthur Meek has adapted the 19th century Samuel Butler novel through the lens of a magic lantern to provide us with the explorer, Lord Erewhon, his journey into the native’s homelands, his attempt to colonise, his adaptation to their ways and finds that his native approach works best by doing in Rome, what these Roman chappies do. All to the soundtrack from Eva Prowse that is haunting and illuminating.
Meek has created a fascinating part lecture, part transportation, not in an antipodean way, of us to a time where things were, frankly racist, misogynistic and safer for imperialist bigots. His apologies are well meant and do not fall on deaf ears, but it is the approach to such prejudice that is so totally effective in debunking it. We get presented with the absurdity of the pith helmet, the mail order colonisation kit and the expectation that just by turning up in those foreign fields, people shall spot your superiority.
Having found a new land, coined it New George and noted a lot of squawky birds which he called, Squawky Birds, our eponymous hero was destined to try to be the man in charge. Except he wasn’t, and the natives soon saw to that. He became intoxicated by them and found he was more likely to be converted to them than they were ever likely to find themselves converted to his ways.
With an endearing and effective partnership with Prowse, Meek has this tale down to a T. Whilst he may be sorry for being a straight white guy, there is a need for one as the times demanded it. Meek has an endearing delivery that takes you from the racist undertones of Lord Erewhon with the pith helmet, to the narrator who is anything but when he takes it off.
He has the magic lantern working beautifully and though we are all aware that there is more projection and I pad trickery than he might be letting on it adds to the overall feel of a lecture from Victorian times coming alive in the lecture theatre of today; and it is in a lecture theatre!
The use of an iPhone at times to give us a live feed as well as the streaming of the experience to the corners of the world make it all feel that little bit more special.
The setting and the set work wonderfully, the backdrops and projections along with the musical accompaniment that is anything but accompanying – it is an integral part of the experience lift this from the educational to the enthralling.
It made me think that sometimes the attacks upon prejudice merely harden the resolve of those who are prejudiced to feel further convinced that they are persecuted for their beliefs. The lampooning of these attitudes is exactly what not only punctures the attitude of yesteryear but ridicule those who still hold them today.
This may be set in Victoriana but it has a clear panoramic vista that I relevant to today. With such a coherence between script, performers and their delivery, expertly handled in direction and technological prowess it is a tale with undercurrents flowing all over it whilst whimpering rather than screaming its message – nonetheless effective for it.