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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

The Man Who Thought He Knew Too Much

Voloz Collective

Genre: Comedy, Physical Theatre

Venue: Pleasance Courtyard - Forth


Low Down

Physical theatre, 1960’s spy extravanganza


It is November 1963. Roger Clement is a Frenchman living in New York. He works at an advertising agency and it is fair to say that he is a stickler for routine, invariably having a coffee at a favoured outlet, taking the train to work, always being punctual. He has an errant secretary, though he tolerates this as she seems to aid with the creatives. His colleagues clearly appreciate him, though he is apparently somewhat anonymous, as they don’t appear to know his name. That is all about to change though.

His world is turned upside down when a bomb explodes at his offices. Most fortuitously, it seems, a series of unfortunate events delayed his arrival that day and he was unharmed. He suspects he knows who the perpetrators were and pursues them to Paris. Further twists follow and Roger pops up in Norway, England, The Soviet Union, space and eventually back in the US. He re-encounters past foes – or are some friends ? – and so as not to issue spoilers, let’s just say that a certain Dallas grassy knoll may be involved.

If all of this sounds far-fetched, it’s fine : it’s supposed to be. The events are merely a medium through which the highly talented Voloz Collective display their skills. And such skills. The stage is set with a couple of chairs and boxes, with the impressive Frederick Waxman playing initially guitar, to be followed by keyboard and drum. The rest of the collective – Olivia Zerphy, Paul Lofferon, Emily Wheatman and Sam Rayner – weave this tale around each other, in a slick, funny, breathless, relentless explosion of movement, their Lecoq training easily evident. The cast take on multiple characters with a drop of the shoulder here or an upturned eyebrow there. They employ unlikely props as part of the story-telling – newspapers forming windows or a horse’s tail, a scarf becoming a cat. The intertwining of identity and role is made further opaque by Waxman simultaneously skilfully punctuating the performance with music and sometimes being a cast member. The lighting design (Jo Underwood) was also noteworthy, especially striking when Clement is underwater.

The show has a cinematic, film noir aspect, the influences hard to ignore : immediately John Buchan, but also Hitchcock, Mission Impossible, Matrix and perhaps referencing mostly the Coen brothers’ The Man Who Wasn’t There.

This show blends story-telling and physical theatre at its finest. Towards the denouement, one of the cast enunciates that they “don’t really like to be dramatic” – oh, but they do ; they really do. There was a full house today in the capacious Pleasance Courtyard Forth space … grab a ticket while you can.