Edinburgh International Festival 2023
Why would you risk your life to save others? Through captivating storytelling, As Far As Impossible reveals the motivations of humanitarian workers who work every day in dangerous environments to save the lives of strangers.
A completely white set with intriguing pulleys fills the large stage area. White fabric in peaks and valleys give the idea of a no man’s land, a terrain of no particular place, but this is everywhere. This is symbolic of everywhere challenging and dangerous situations are taking place in the world, in other words, impossible situations.
Written and directed by Tiago Rodrigues for the Comédie de Genève, the new play is based on real stories from interviews of aid workers that are always human, often sad and realistic with some humour here and there.
A cast of four actors and one musician: Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble, Natacha Koutchoumov and Gabriel Ferrandini (Musician) are on stage for the majority of the show. The musician is placed in a black circle that is never breached by the actors.
Each of the actors has a different personality or attribute and they take turns addressing the audience directly. They are always in close proximity to each other and interact a litle but seldom in long back and forth conversations. This may sound rather clinical but it is an appropriate style for this play.
They have been invited to take part in a documentary about the impossible, to be interviewed about what makes them tick and how their lives are affected by their work in foreign countries where war is ravaging and they are in constant demand to help people.
Wearing a shirt and trousers in different solid colours, the four iad workers introduce themselves. They say they are not the heroes that many people think. They are simply doing their job, and it’s a difficult and heart wrenching job, but it’s what they do. They also want to be shown as normal people in the documentary.
Their personalities are different and this makes for a contrast early on as we get to know them but their stories and outlook about what they do is the common ground and takes focus. For example, one is nervous about doing the interviews for the documentary, one matter of fact, another humble and precise.
We are warned that we might hear about life and death situations that are part of their lives and eventually how hard it is to deal with them. One admits that there is a ““perverted excitement about disaster” and another confirms that “sex is for relaxing.”
They move towards the terrain behind them to see what’s happening and what they need to do, they tell us that people call out “can you help us?” The musician has been in shadows until now but as the white fabric of the high peaks is raised by the actors working the pulleys we see and hear the musician drumming. He plays a variation of musical rhythms and styles during the show by composer Gabriel Ferrandini, which add to the lugubrious atmosphere and tension.
Many stories are told that explain their impossible situation as aid workers, but a heart rending example of one such story is when several children need a blood transfusion. However, there was only enough blood for one transfusion. How can anyone choose which one child out of several will receive it, a chance for life? Is it based on age, merit, importance, possible future achievement, or chance of survival that day? At this point the four humanitarian workers are solemn and visibly conflicted in the disbelief of being in this situation of having to choose who will live.
The Mise-en-scène around the stage is spare and effective with variations and in the second half of the show the aid workers move around the space more, as a foursome in diamond shape formation or other combinations, which is interesting visually. The stunning scenography is vital and thus central to this transporting piece by Laurent Junod, Wendy Tokuoka, Laura Fleury, completed by Rui Monteiro Lighting Designer.
Ferrandini’s haunting and reverberating sound of the full drum set takes on a louder and more prominent focus as the story progresses, which is dramatic and moving. A choice of the consistent delivery of the actors is beguiling and the intensity of their stories is very effective.
The tone of the show is sombre and realistic about the horrors of war and the actors mirror this but are also emotive in between their matter of fact responses for the documentary. It is also clear that they remember many incidents in detail – even when so much is going on they stay focused on their never ending work.