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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

The Empathy Experiment

Rose Condo

Genre: Poetry-Based Theatre, Solo Show, Spoken Word

Venue: PBH Free Fringe at Banshee Labyrinth


Low Down

An experiment that it’s worth being a part of.  It educates and entertains.  And makes you think.


Don’t get me started on smartphones.  I got one of these new all-singing all dancing things six months ago and have long since abandoned it, reverting to the simple little thing I had before, which struggles to pick up signal in most parts of the world and, as for on-line browsing, forget it.  That’s why it spends most of its time switched off.

So I can really empathise with the joyful Rose Condo’s desire to improve her own empathetic qualities by abandoning her devices for a full 24 hours – no smartphone, no interweb, no other means of communicating other than by face-to-face contact with other human beings and a landline (remember those?) for emergencies.

As this is an experiment, Condo dons a scientific looking lab coat as she embarks on one of the most interesting, informative, amusing and, occasionally, poignant pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time.  And it is definitely theatre (not lecture) as the vast quantity of information that assails our senses in this whistle stop fifty-minute experiment is delivered in rhyme.  Not just ordinary rhyme either, stanzas are of variable length, rhyming patterns flicking around at random, delivery animated with well-thought through use of the body and eyes – creating empathy with her enrapt audience in fact.

Condo takes us through the classic eight stages of any experiment, from observation (we’re addicted to smartphones), formulation of the question (will empathy improve in the absence of said devices?), through to the experiment itself (persuading everyone to stick their device in an envelope and do without it during the show) to the data itself and ultimately the conclusions one draws from it.

Along the way, Condo illustrates her hypothesis (technology is fine, but take a break periodically and re-engage with the human race) with snatches of that delightful poetry including a truly memorable, pithy appeal to one Donald Trump to put it away (his phone, that is) which contained the most withering put-down I have heard aired against anyone, never mind the so-called leader of the free world.  It’s worth the trip alone just to hear this.

Never didactic, always persuasive as well as being genuinely empathetic, Condo amuses as she educates.  Observationally as sharp as a pin, she sent me out convinced that she’s right.  Look up.  Look around you.  Enjoy what’s in your immediate vicinity.  Engage.  And don’t walk around with your head focused on your phone.  Technology is here for you.  You are not here for technology.

This is one of those highly recommended little gems you can find in the Fringe if you poke around in its quieter corners, in its smaller venues, you know, the ones tucked down the side street off the main drag.

Banshee Labyrinth is one such, on Niddry Street and it’s well-worth making a detour for but arrive in good time as word is spreading and it’s become a very popular event.  Meantime, my next challenge is remembering where I left my blooming phone.