Book Reviews / Performance

Paper Stages at Edinburgh

Reviewed by Daniel B. Yates and Catherine Love and Lois Jeary and Rosanna Hall


Paper Stages was a small book released by Forest Fringe for this year’s Edinburgh festival, available in exchange for an hour of the reader’s time. Featuring Tim Etchells, Bryony Kimmings, Kim Noble, Chris Goode and others it was designed to be read and performed throughout the city. “This is not a book” reads the inside cover, “this is a festival.”

Exeunt performs Paper Stages
A recording of Exeunt writers’ performance of Paper Stages, August 2012.  Featuring extracts from Keiran Hurley’s Untitled, Emma Bennett’s Saying Things Out Loud Alphabetically Separately and Together, Melanie Wilson’s Mount St. Helens, and Action Hero’s House Music.

Entr’acte: Balerno to Leith, Chris Goode. pg.21. reviewed by Rosanna Hall

To walk the excess of twelve miles of the Water of Leith at the andante pace suggested by Chris Goode’s piece in Paper Stages would take upwards of 6 hours, yet by juxtaposing the map across manuscript he suggests another way of getting to know it, via music, an urging to understand the river in a similar way to a musical performance.

According to the manuscript the river should depart Balerno accompanied by the double bass, with the ‘cello, viola and violin grasping the thread of the rivers melody, with no instruments in unison but blurring into another the smudge of the rivers periphery on the map, from Currie to Colinton, to Roseburn to Stockbridge adopt a different timbre. While the melody meanders, cutting across clefs and sprawling through the pitches of strings, brass, woodwind and percussion, it forges a trail made centuries ago but which, as rivers do, is slowly eroding a new path.

Reviewing a manuscript is a difficult task, reliant as it is on ones imagination, but Goode’s offering allows what for many is a city unexplored out-with the central fringe belt, a context which tries to explain the composite parts of Edinburgh. The thread of water which runs through the city becomes mirrored by music, an appropriate symbol for the festival month.  By putting a map to music, Goode challenges us to intellectually evaluate how we represent space and place within our own mind – what places sound like, how we take home a mental imprint of the sound of a city, similar to a picture in our memory of our place within it, the world rushing past with the metronome of our own footsteps remaining constant.

Of course it requires compliance to bring the manuscript to life, you must be willing to conduct the mental orchestra waiting in the wings, and it is ultimately in the hands of the reader as to whether – and how successfully – this river melody breaks the banks of feeling a bit of a dafty and bursts into sound.  Yet, this coupling of space and music begins to offer something new to how a place becomes illustrated in our memories, and even as the river flows out at the Leith Docks, [I’ve always thought an oboe sounded like a duck singing]  the part of the flute remains unwritten, looking out into the mighty Firth of Forth, and to Fife, then Northerly, a wilder place urging to be explored, a wilder music, urging to be written.

(Not THAT Kind of) Doctor Lobel Cures Horrible Performance, Brian Lobel. pg 16-17. reviewed by Lois Jeary

Poor Doctor Brian Lobel. Mere hours after his thesis defence for his PhD, the seeming futility of years of work and dedication in the field of Drama and Contemporary Performance was made painfully apparent. What good is a Doctor who can’t deliver babies in an airplane, administer lifesaving CPR on the roadside or apply a tourniquet to a severed limb, he wondered? Well, (Not THAT Kind of) Doctor Lobel is good for something – he understands that the theatre community are a delicate bunch, that ‘with every horrible show, a bit of our soul slowly dies’, and that after a month of well-intentioned but artistically challenged performance Fringe-goers might be in need of his assistance.

For anyone who has not yet discovered the therapeutic joys of criticism this virtual consulation with the doctor could prove deeply rewarding. A critic knows that revisiting a theatrical experience some time after the event momentarily reignites the feelings felt during performance, whilst analysis and explanation can provide a much-needed sense of closure to an experience either good or bad. Doctor Lobel’s invitation to put a Horrible Show in context, explain why it was so bad and how you feel now is an, albeit formulaic, excuse for all theatregoers to start to analyse their own experience and reception of shockingly bad theatre.

I can only assume that my symptoms didn’t sound fatal, as the good Doctor failed to respond to my consultation email at all within the 24 hour window his automated email of a po-faced secretary outlined. An artistic comment on the state of the NHS perhaps, or the sign of a particularly devastating outbreak of dodgy theatre in the latter half of August, either way, without the Doctor’s guidance it lies with me to self-medicate my way out of this particular mess. A rant, a drink and a solemn vow to never step foot inside *cough* venue ever again should suffice, but of course I knew all that already. Who needs Doctors anyway?

The Incidental Plays, Andy Field. pg. 14-15. reviewed by Catherine Love.

Urban embraces and concrete barriers are the substance of Andy Field’s elusive collection of miniature plays, to be performed “in a city by an indeterminate number of people for an audience that does not quite realise it is an audience”. These pieces, composed not of directions or dialogue but of poetically constructed observations, also paradoxically contain within them the impossibility of their faithful re-enactment. Composed from the texture of city life, they exist as scores without adequate musicians.

Despite their inherent difficulties, there are some actions that might successfully be undertaken from these lyrical descriptions. The idea of occupying the coldly impersonal space of the department store and blithely using its wares with no apparent purpose is particularly appealing in both its childlike naughtiness and the two fingers it implicitly holds up to the capitalist culture of consumption, as is the activity of chasing one another “aimlessly” through the streets.

Throughout these fragments lingers the ghost of intimacy, often longed for or obstructed. The awkward waiting for a text message, the figures quietly catching one another’s eyes, the individuals at the crossing staring over the road at one another, unable to bridge the gap. They speak of an inability to connect with the people with whom we share our streets, an inability that is fittingly reflected in the concept of an unwitting audience and performance pieces that cannot quite be performed.

Perhaps the performative element of the exquisite pieces that Field has wrought is not as solid or straightforward as a simple following of cues and instructions. Rather they might be viewed as a beautifully insubstantial set of blueprints for retracing the city, for challenging the urban space’s inscribed values of capitalist acquisition and false intimacy. It is rebellion through the pursuit of materially worthless beauty; revolution via the subversive act of aimlessness. Incidental, but incidentally vital.

Bank Robbery?, Tania El Khoury. pg. 51-52. reviewed by Daniel B. Yates

Lecturer in architecture at the University of Innsbruck Armin Blasbicher set a task for his students to plan the robbery of a bank. Claiming it as a “bold attempt to run an academic course as a profit making business model”,  participants were instructed to take on alter-egos and as part of what was described as a ‘performance’ survey 21 banks within the Innsbruck area.  And where some questioned the legality (“Architecture is always illegal” was Blasbicher’s reply) another described in virtuosic detail the theft of a chained ball point pen (“that icon of worthlessness and petty communication strategies”) while another, taking Brecht’s quote “what is robbing a bank compared to founding a bank?”, laid out a strategy for of a hedge fund which would bet on the successes of bank robberies in some deftly absurd futures market.

This latter approach is the one Tania El Khoury brings with Bank Robbery? 400 words of injunction to detourne the unblinking facades of banks, with their app-like colour schemes, their appearance of global facility; their talk of community while implicating us in hegemonic financial systems, sucking money from the localities they squat in.  She begins discussing a bank robbery in Lebanon, relaying the ambivalent comments below the articles ranging from xenophobia, to egging on (the folk spirit of “getting away with it” that has criminals as enduring counter-cultural icons) to the stark “robberies are the only solution left for us.”

This presented a question; what is the status of a bank robbery in the current climate of late-capitalism, where a populist accelerating sense of their evil is one of the defining political sentiments? Rather than answering, El Khoury seeks to make that question visible.  Recto is printed a graffito template, “bank robbery?”, with instructions to blow up to A3 and spray on the frontage of any given bank.  Verso a picture of a branch of the Lebanese Swiss Bank, revealed and cowed by the small line of graffito smartly marked under its logo by El Khoury and her associates. As with the UK riots, the Paris Commune attacked financial institutions that had distorted their community; and yet the Communards ended up borrowing from the Bank of France, just as Blasbicher ended up accepting money from the banks he targeted. Perhaps the strength of this kind of intervention from Paper Stages is that the meme floats, unrecuperable, a mark of terror, an instance of imagined action and possible action.

Read our discussion with Co-Director of Forest Fringe Andy Field on Paper Stages.


Produced by

Forest Fringe