1. What’s the matter, Tyler?
Everything started with hopelessness
It did not start well.
There were two old friends so dislocated from each other they seemingly couldn’t even occupy the same play. There was an excruciating apology for a backing band that had once again failed to show up. A failing quarterback in a forgotten town. A tragic death and a world-altering bankruptcy. There were abandoned railway lines. Closed borders. Mountains of debt. A fractured constellation of bruised online friendships. A polar bear slowly disintegrating as it walked alone along beaches and motorways. A roomful of missed and missing connections.
There was us, walking past the place we used to call home and trying not to notice it.
In the beginning at least things were looking pretty bleak. Things are looking pretty bleak. At the beginning of the show we sit for two minutes in the dark, and at the end of that two minutes we are told that the only thing that has changed is that we are now two minutes closer to death.
2. Teenage Wasteland
The festival was over and we were going for food. We walked slowly and exhaustedly up Leith Walk and down Calton Hill, as if re-enacting the opening of Trainspotting underwater. And as we walked we talked about Ross Sutherland’s show Stand By for Tape Back-Up. We talked about the fact that for many people in their 20s and early 30s it had been their absolute favourite show at Forest Fringe and how this enthusiasm perhaps wasn’t repeated in people who were slightly older. I wondered aloud and inarticulately if this was because the fragile figure in front of us is so relatable to people of a particular age (and perhaps background). He is lost. A sad eyed and soft hearted suburbanite thrashing around in a pond that has nearly drained completely. Incapacitated by depression, riddled with allergies, he does not fit into a world that is itself fracturing beyond recognition. A synecdoche for a whole precarious generation living in the shadow of their parents, or at least in their spare rooms, and the only fragments he has to shore against his ruins are half-remembered pop cultural artefacts; a gaudily-coloured cannon of images and catchphrases from a seemingly more innocent childhood. Like an asthmatic Macgyver, Ross stares at these disintegrating remains, at Will Smith or Bill Murray or the guy off the Natwest Advert, and says to us that this, this is all we have to try and save the world with.
3. Everything happens for a reason, everything
And yet, Ross’ show is not a eulogy, or a moan, it is an experiment. It is the summoning of something from these flickering VHS images. It is saying if this is all we have then this will have to do. It is an attempt to construct a home from lost detritus. To build memory and feeling from meaningless trivia. To find place and reason and community in anonymous images. It is a description of failure replayed again and again and again until it becomes hope. It is a beginning.
4. What happens to the hope
The more I looked for hope the more I found it.
In Tim Crouch and Andy Smith’s suggestion that the simple act of being together in a room is the first part of overcoming seemingly insurmountable difference.
In Action Hero’s insistence that empty cliché can still contain traces of beauty and truth.
In Brian Lobel’s assertion that even the coldest discourse can be reconfigured to speak about love and possibility.
More than simply hope however, I encountered a community of people exploring, like Ross, the question of what theatre can do to help. Not how can theatre raise awareness of the problems we are facing, but how can it be, in its very form, a way of making things better. And so in the work of Tim & Andy or Unfinished Business, theatre became a space in which we might gather to overcome difference, to begin to build a new kind of community. In the work of Rosana Cade, Sarah Jane Norman or the Deaf and Hearing Ensemble, theatre becomes the possibility of embodying difference; a way of learning to be something other than ourselves and as such a way of transforming our understanding of and relationship to otherness. In the pieces by Dictaphone Group, Brian Lobel and Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker, theatre is a site for making and enacting promises, to ourselves and to others. In Rob Daniels and Ella Good & Nicki Kent’s work it becomes a place to reinscribe vulnerability and uncertainty in our experience of the world. And by the end of Ira Brand’s A Cure For Ageing the suggestion that theatre is just the passing of time has been transformed into the possibility that it might be a place to share time; in remembrance, in celebration, in defiance, in hope.
5. We Make a Life By What We Give
I have not had the time to mention everything and those things I have mentioned should not be taken for the best things I saw or was involved with at Forest Fringe, or my most favourite. This is just one example of a desire I saw repeated across all the artists that we hosted this year. A desire that was incredibly hopeful without being blindly optimistic. A desire that was fiercely political even (or perhaps especially) when it didn’t wear its politics like a uniform. A desire to understand better what theatre might be, how theatre might help, how it can begin to mend things at a point of near total hopelessness.
In the beginning things were looking pretty bleak but they got better.