Tasty narrative experiences at the Edinburgh festival

Passed this lady on a bench every night…

A statue of a woman on a bench

Each night I wondered what she was reading but was afraid to look closer.

She was intriguing like many of the things we saw in Edinburgh.

The Guild of Cheesemakers by Stand and Stare collective (http://www.standandstare.com/projects/the-guild-of-cheesemakers/)
cast the audience as members of the Guild of Cheesemakers meeting for their annual event. The story evolved as we tasted cheeses, wines and bread, learning about cheese and bread making from genuine experts, until all was interrupted. A man and woman, both over 300 years old, revealed how they had discovered a cheese that stopped the aging process. From then on the audience were the main characters debating the dilemma, should such a cheese be unleashed on the world or destroyed.
This did provoke debate, which is I’m sure what most theatre practitioners would like their work to do, although I was more interested in the story and less bothered about debating in a true sense. I suppose I didn’t enter into the character or spirit of it really and cast my vote to see what would happen next rather than out of any conviction. Voting against the majority I never did get to see how the guild might take control of this incredible cheese. I was surprised how many people took the vote seriously, as genuinely what they would do.

This was unlike any other of my theatrical experiences in Edinburgh. Mostly I sat in darkened rooms, hidden, enjoying a voyeuristic experience with other people but not communicating with others. Here I was exposed, part of the action, not only visible to everyone else but sat around the table with everyone, immersed in the scene rather than watching through a window. This will always be awkward at first, no-one sure how far to take their part as a member of the Guild of cheesemakers, not really wanting to perform. The wine and food here helped, it gave the audience something to do, provided a topic to join in talking about and the process of eating and drinking relaxed people.

So people did talk. There is always the risk that the talk will be less than exciting, in the event I went to there were enough witty comments and entertaining arguments to make it enjoyable.

I also like Stand Stares – Theatre Jukebox – produced with archive material from the Mass Observation project – it is an installation that tells ordinary people stories taken from the archive and animated, with sound accessed through postcards with RFID tags – Very simple intuitive interaction and a very poetic experience – http://www.standandstare.com/projects/theatre-jukebox/

Another immersive theatre experience at Summerhall was Theatre Corsairs’, The Dead Memory House http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s1GNHObMdeI

A claustrophobic visit to a flat where three women are spending the evening by turns supporting and prompting, accusing and tormenting each other while the audience follow them from room to room and watch as memories unfold and we get a glimpse of their lives, their pasts and their dreams. Again this was an awkward piece at first and as an audience member you are not sure whether you should speak to the characters, how far you should join in. Here the notion that we were invited guests smoothed this out and a game of writing down a memory was introduced to get over that ‘awkwardness’ of being guests at a party. In fact the whole awkwardness thing was all part of it – these were characters who were very uncomfortable in themselves. Finally when the characters have left the flat you could stay and look around at the books on the shelves, the photographs and bric-a-brac. This nosing around satisfied a true voyeurism and added background, not really explaining but hinting at why characters behaved as they did. Not a lot of the audience stayed to do this though, which surprise me.