Edinburgh Fringe 2018
In an inviting cafe setting, The Welcome Revolution invites its audience in with a warm cup of tea to take part in this immersive solo piece. Through storytelling supported by audience interaction, “Lara” brings us along on a journey that starts with her grandfather and leads all the way to us, emphasizing a celebration of common humanity and the power of kindness.
The Welcome Revolution is a surprisingly powerful piece that unexpectedly sneaks up on the viewer. There is no traditional start or finish of the show, nor is there a clear distinction between performance/performer and audience, due to the casual nature of the setting and the way it is presented. Entering the space, the audience wanders about, finding a comfortable seat, and is warmly offered a choice of tea to enjoy during the show from a smiling young woman. At first, you may think this a volunteer from Zoo Venues, but then she comes to the front of the room and begins the show. This fluid way of moving through the space and interacting with the audience persists throughout the show, making it feel a little bit more like a gathering in which everyone is involved rather than a traditional performance. This may come as a surprise to those not expecting it, but is executed with such warmth and ease that it is not in the least jarring or unpleasant.
The show consists mainly of “Lara,” the young woman who served tea, explaining how she came to run her own cafe, picking up the mantle of ownership from her departed grandfather. From him, she learned the power of community and saw how important having a communal space for all different walks of life is, but as she seeks to recreate this harmonious reality, she is faced with the harsh divisions summoned by modern day attitudes and politics. To bring her story to life, Lara is constantly putting the audience into the action, pulling up people to dance, asking them to read her grandfather’s words “in your best Edinburgh accent,” foisting an untuned ukulele upon whomever might be able to play a chord or two, and handing out various props throughout. Projections of quotes are shown as she or audience members are asked to read, which helps us all to follow along, as are occasional bits of photo evidence from her story, lending a deeper sense of authenticity. (It was authentic, in fact, that I was shocked to find the actress playing Lara is in fact not named Lara at all… it felt deeply real and autobiographical, but this does not take away from the quality of the show.) By the end of the show, everyone has taken part in some way, and everyone is literally dancing together, smiling.
The most effective part of the show is how simply Lara presents her story. She is offering a counterpoint to xenophobia without raising her voice, without condemning people as racist or wrong. She does so with kindness, by suggesting instead of reacting in fear, we welcome in those in need. (Hence the name of the play.) To get her point across, she shares real stories of different people who she got to know by hosting “tea parties” and trying to get to hear their stories. Some of these quotes are utterly heartbreaking– one, in particular, about a girl who, upon seeing the famous news image of the dead Syrian refugee child on the Turkish beach, said she “wanted to be a mermaid so she could save the children”– but Lara does not milk the pathos or attempt to get a rise out of us, she simply reads the quote calmly, which somehow makes it all the more affecting. She ends the show in a joyful moment of dance, handing out “instructions” for how each of us can start our own welcome revolutions, and the simple actions we can take to change the world for the better (i.e. “Smile, volunteer, vote, be kind.”)
The show isn’t complicated, it’s not some visionary work of theatricality, but its power lies within its simplicity. Change really does happen in small steps, at a local level, and if this one tiny piece of theatre could make a room of exhausted Fringers get up and dance, well, it really does give you hope for the future.