How do you step up in a reality spinning out of control? Early on in his benign new play for the ARC arts centre, Daniel Bye shares his fears: Brexit, being useless, and intensely large crowds. The latter informs Hannah Sibai’s stage design, which corners off Bye from the audience. Depressingly, it’s also another barrier in a world divided.
Alex Swift’s deft production sees Bye searching for inspiration. He looks to the works of Edward Shorter, a performance artist who couldn’t be more allusive if he were a myth, which, in Bye’s story, he is. In order to live up to this Shorter, an impresario whose performances test borders, Bye would have to address inequality by selling his home and staging work in dangerous territories. It’s an extreme lifestyle shift. Bye’s looking more for the middle ground.
The conceit here is that this is a staging of Shorter’s ‘Border scenes’, dialogues revolving around a young girl confronting border police. Bye fleshes out the character in his own vivid storytelling, revealing her to be a British citizen trying to smuggle herself back to Britain; while suffering through an identity crisis, she decided to burn her passport. His goofily smart performance charms audiences into taking part, making the action come to life.
At the first sign of the Border scenes resembling something out of Pinter, however, Bye pulls the plug, saying he’s concerned for the audience’s safety. It feels like self-sabotage that this be the final result of Shorter’s texts, in a production that insists art can intervene. Instead, in an eleventh hour twist, Bye reveals he’ll make a difference by working as a security guard in detention centre, a manoeuvre that feels contrived and underdeveloped.
There, the production insists that solidarity and revolt has space to breathe. It’s an unconvincing ending but Bye, slyly, has already proven the point. More affective that the mythic Shorter are the audience, who step in to share how in troubling times they remain courageous, positive, tenacious and rebellious. In a pastoral play such as this, the seeds of revolution are spread in the telling.
Instructions for Border Crossing is on at Summerhall until 26 August 2017. Click here for more details.