Edinburgh Fringe 2018
“Fear Itself” is a lecture, a therapy session, and a tirade on love and obsession. Danse Macabre Production’s play ruminates on the rise and fall of psychological anxiety. With a nod at the titan of horror, Hitchcock, suspense is all in the timing. Like a well-planned dance, we are peppered with charming stories and sarcastic quips followed by quick jabs of a darker reality. There is a pleasure in waiting for encroaching terror. How does it feel the moment before you peek in the closet…below the bed…and finally…under the covers?
This psychic discord is well supported by the show’s aesthetic. It resembles a sparse nightclub turned impromptu lecture hall. With thumping bass, flashing lights and clinically white projection screen, an immediate anxiety surfaces. This is not a space you will recognize; like a dream, this is an amalgamation of memories, a collage of comfort and distress – fragments of reality. The show is symbolic and real, whole and memory, dream and nightmare.
The cognitive dissonance of perfunctory academic self-help-isms and crippling childlike terror, crafts a complex and moving protagonist. For Dr Amanda Greenwood, the audience will cheer, volunteer, laugh and grip our chairs a little tighter. Many successful shows hinge on a central character who pivots her motivations at the snap of a finger. Dr Greenwood encompasses many needs, desires and emotions simultaneously, each basic urge striving to break to the surface amid the institutionalized impulse to repress what doesn’t fit into one’s perfectly crafted persona. This grounded performance by Natalie Dawson enables what many actors strive to do; if you don’t fear for yourself, you will certainly fear for her.
From lecture to lover’s quarrel, much comfort is derived from the nearly recognizable, such as the dysfunctional, sarcastic vehemence of the ex-couple who tours together. The pair’s candid “f**ck you’s” and eye rolls elicit snickers and glee from the audience. This pair has clearly traversed the fine line between love and disaster.
It takes time for the true tensions to develop and there are some stiff moments early on. Most notable is the show’s perfunctory exercises on fear and human nature. A mix of circus sideshow and afternoon special, we are asked: “What would you do if…” Whether self-aware or campy plot device, we move forward with this initial benign survey course, perhaps better titled, “the psychology of fear… for dummies.”
Dr Greenwood claims to name, understand and conquer her fear. If not happy, like a woman with her own gospel choir, she is content, empowered and successful. Yet her struggle with fear has born a dark and vengeful god. Dr Greenwood has ultimately nurtured this abomination with an obsession only comparable to her need for her much-lauded and quickly deteriorating control.
Some may find the ending ill handled. Horror has often portrayed deranged and grotesque stereotypes, some of which can be deeply offensive to people who have actually experienced these types of trauma, if not handled with thought and sensitivity. It is unclear whether the artistic team intended for the final moments to elicit nervous laughter or genuine fear.
This play finely walks the line between funny and fearful. While the audience may enter “Fear Itself” with boisterous laughter, we leave with haunted eyes and genuine smiles. This is the release that only comes from watching unfold the ultimate terror, something fairly obvious yet impossible to encompass – fear itself.