Edinburgh Fringe 2018
A wry look at what a government might resort to if the population keeps getting older and growing in numbers. This radical alternative manifesto for the NHS has shades of Black Mirror meets Logan’s run but is much funnier than both.
In a dystopia too grim to contemplate the four female workers of pod 17 slavishly obey the disembodied voice representing the ruthless authority. Like worker ants they know their role and follow it diligently, obeying the petty rules, stripped of all individuality. Pod 17 is the recycling unit, responsible for neatly packing up the clothes and other personal effects of all the ‘older’ citizens. In this alternative universe anyone who reaches the age of 50 is literally redundant but instead of a nice gold watch or gardening leave they are let go in a particularly nasty fashion. Pod 17 rather poignantly don‘t bat an eyelid as they watch this gruesome departure; they know no other life having been generated in test tubes and raised in a giant nursery. Until the day that it is Bernard Freemont’s turn to depart and Pod 17 find themselves unwillingly dragged into his daring escape.
A successful mash up of the 1970’s sci-fi film Logan’s Run, The Matrix, Channel Four’s Black Mirror and many other sources that the company used in their research when devising this show Where the Hell is Bernard is part adventure romp, part celebration of the joys of learning about a world of possibilities beyond a life of narrow expectation. It is funny, sad and very dark.
Haste Theatre use their considerable skills as clowns, puppeteers and seasoned exponents of physical theatre. The set (designer Georgia de Gray) is simple – storage cabinets on wheels maybe with a slightly sinister Scandi name like Fionstr are brought into service as conveyor belts, escalators, tunnel walls and incubators. Their intricate movement is choreographed to a dramatic score (designer Paul Freeman) part original, part found which gives the production a filmic quality. It is always very pleasing to watch a show when all elements – performance, sound, light (Katrin Padel) – work so seamlessly together under tight direction (Ally Cologna) to support the plot and the themes being explored.
The show is a little flabby in places – the nightclub scene is overlong, adds little to the story and would be better with an original dance track; the one chosen is too well-known and yanks the audience back to reality. It might have been more reflective of the zeitgeist to have had a Brenda instead of Bernard and explored gender neutrality for the four pod members. Not just to challenge a status quo of male action heroes and female supporting roles but to reinforce that this is a play about a possible future – one with seeds in a turbulent present.
With all the influences clearly used in its development this show this was never going to be a wholly original idea but its execution is highly imaginative and an absorbing delight to watch. The cast (Elly Beaman-Brinklow, Sophie Taylor, Valeria Rossmore) are disciplined physically and and equally good at comedy and pathos. Their fourth member Jesse Dupre had been taken poorly for this performance but the remaining trio more than coped with taking on the missing 25 per cent.