Edinburgh Fringe 2018
With the verbatim text taken from interviews with those aged 75 to 105, this stunning piece of ensemble theatre is an absolute joy to watch from start to finish. This talented group creates a beautiful tapestry of love stories, some long-lasting, some momentary and fleeting, but all incredibly honest and delicately performed. Using impressive physicality, dance, music, live visual art and even puppetry, this cast draws from the depths of their talent and skill to bring new life to the stories of those too frequently forgotten or overlooked. A truly gorgeous work that is a must see this Fringe.
Strewn across the stage, the ensemble of fourteen making up the cast of The First Love Story waits to come to life, draped over file folders, dormant on the floor. Life is breathed into the stage picture as audio from interviews trickle in, slowly mixing into a musical medley of aged voices, snippets of remembrances mingling with a melodic line as the actors move into formation to begin their storytelling. This show draws from one of the purest forms of story- the interview- and elevates it to a magnificent theatrical experience. While the love stories being conveyed are from interviews with people from age 75 to 105, the opening is the only time we hear an actual aged voice: the rest of the time the young cast embodies these words, reinvigorating them with the youth these memories hail back to. With the exception of the opening and closing sound cue, all sound is created onstage by an electric guitarist, occasional percussionist, or the actors themselves, giving little to distract from the words of these interviews and filling them with new life.
The cast plays to their strengths to various ways: all partake in seamless ensemble movement to create stage pictures of the narratives, often smoothly moving through counterbalance and sculptural physicality. Some compose charcoal sketches of the unseen speakers on a canvas in the back of the stage, and the piece often features impressive movement/dance solos which can only be described as part pop-and-lock, part contortion, part modern by one virtuosic performer in particular. One of the most interesting devices of storytelling is the use of a pair of faceless puppets (similar to a larger version of a figure drawing mannequin) that are expertly maneuvered by the cast in tandem with vocal performance. In one particularly impressive moment, an actor “coughed” and the puppet moved so perfectly in time with it that it seemed to come out of the figure itself. Given that these puppets are manned by multiple actors, the coordination is extraordinarily polished. This was a brilliant choice in embodying the interviews: to force young actors to pretend to be old physically requires a rather large suspension of disbelief. The actors never play the age themselves, just the words, and by offering a puppet as representation, it allowed a more convincing conveyance of the age and physical reality of the person interviewed. In terms of acting, the cast is all equally strong, and must be commended for their excellent dialect work, which ranges from Scottish to North American to Indian.
Beyond the excellence of the performances and the innovative nature of the staging, the content of the show is noteworthy. Too frequently, the stories of the elderly are overlooked and the value of their lives and experiences are forgotten. Popular culture favors the young, the new, the flashy. So there is something deeply moving in seeing an ensemble that’s not yet even in uni paying such deep respect to the stories of their elders. We are reminded of the eternal nature of love: these stories may be from another time– years that are written up in charcoal on the back of the stage, lest we forget– but they still ring true at any age. This show will make you laugh, and almost certainly will make you cry in its poignant, reverent treatment of these true stories. For the power of its ensemble, thrilling experimentation with form and beautiful treatment of important material, this show earns a Must See.