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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Extreme: The New Norm

Slovak Theatre in London

Genre: Devised, New Writing

Venue: Greenside at Riddle Court


Low Down

We arrive to an onscreen warning, telling us all about the restrictions in place for our attendance. Delivered by an ominous figure in a hazmat suit that warning feels comically threatening. When someone appears live in the same costume it is underlined, though the change about to come through means that there is another layer and element of comedy – it sets the rest up perfectly. There follows several scenes which show such biproducts of COVID as a romance between someone sacked for having the vaccine with someone sacked for not having it, a COVID 19 compliance raid, the vaccination lottery and the fashion show with masks, amongst other similarly poised sketches.


The pandemic brought a lot of theatrical opportunity as there was drama at almost each and every moment of each and every day. We have now got to the point where distance has been created between us and the time when rules were the only thing that made a difference. It is a great time to look back.

What the Slovak theatre in London have done is bring some of that focus into issues which directly would have affected us, or which may have become moments around a fireside that were talked over at great length. Instead of focussing on one side or another, they have woven the script round the issues raised, not just of freedom but the human need to have comfort and contact. This makes this a welcome addition to the debate.

It has been directed with a high degree of understanding for the format. The use of the video and how each scene has a well-crafted beginning which brings questions, for them to be answered or further developed is a key element of the success onstage. It speaks to itself of the structure being used – we have something that poses questions, gives us comic sketches and then asks us to consider the questions posed. It does not fall down on the side of this was a terrible reaction or we should have shut more things down. It leaves that debate and instead you get the feeling that what is up for discussion is, the human condition.

The performers also have an acute sense of what they are involved in and take each opportunity to showcase their understanding of the characters they play was well as the topic matter they are helping to explore. There is not a weak performance on show.

Technically, the video sequences were really well put together and again spent most of their time developing the theme rather than just giving us simple answers. The use of video also brought a lot of relief as it allowed the performers to act and interact with messages from it. It was a clever means of showing the audience what they needed to consider, whilst also suggesting there were things we needed to know. Even the Karen shouting loudly had their place.

There are obviously reasons why people are very open to the idea of listening to the voices of Eastern Europe just now, but that element of condescension can be laid easily to one side here. This is a piece of theatre which works because it seeks to explore rather than answer. We have the view of authority alongside the common people being presented in a very consistent manner. In particular the way in which rules changed almost hourly was effectively demonstrated and if there is a legacy from the pandemic, it may well be, not always to challenge authority but to consistently question it.