Staged at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: so cutting-edge, they haven’t even invented words for it
I’m writing this in a coffee shop as my hands tremble.
Thirty minutes ago, I was standing outside Zoo Venues Southside, talking with the cast and creative team of Staged, a show that I’m really really going to struggle to review.
Thirty minutes before that, the show ended. At that point I was barely able to stand up because my brain was still trying to process what it had just witnessed.
An hour after the whole thing is over, I’m still struggling to put together coherent thoughts on it – this is the best I’m able to do.
Here’s all you really need to know. Staged is one of the most powerful, awe-inspiring, exhilarating pieces of work I’ve seen this festival. It is a 5* show. You absolutely should go see it, regardless of what you think about circus, or physical theatre, or anything really – just go see it. Whatever you do, do not read any other reviews – part of the joy of the show is wondering where it will go next and what the cast can do with the stage. Other reviewers might not be so conservative with the details, you have been warned.
If you must read on, here are some other thoughts which will maybe help explain why Circumference’s ridiculously clever and accomplished spectacle is such a masterpiece:
The show takes place in the air, on a raised wooden platform tethered to the ceiling by bungee cords. Mist drifts pensively over the set as industrial lighting hums and flickers in the background. Spaces between the boards in the platform channel rays of orange luminescence into glowing cracks that echo across the room. There are three performers on this platform – two white women and a black man. The man stands on one of the womens’ head. As we’re waiting for the piece to start – although, in truth, it has already started – we wonder if this image has any thematic significance.
The slightest imbalance will topple the platform – will send it tilting, swinging, falling with its performers to the floor beneath. And so, the three protagonists of our story must work together in order to prevent themselves collapsing under their own weight – united they stand, together they fall. In an exhilarating combination of ensemble work and solo showcase, they dart and dance over the surface, defying the laws of physicality and physics at every turn. Sometimes, there’s also action on the floor underneath and to the sides of the platform. It’s breath-taking, but the direction the piece then begins to take surpasses all expectations.
Earlier in the review I specifically mentioned that there are two white women and a black man in Staged, and that becomes a major concern of the piece: is this significant? Are these images political? If they are, what makes them political? Can we ever avoid race and gender politics in a context where both race and gender differences are present? And if there is politics, who decides what they are? How do we even speak about those politics? For a show which consists of three people running around a floating deck, that’s ridiculously impressive stuff.
This is a piece of work that conjures extreme, transcendent sensation out of thin air – adrenaline, hate, joy, danger, awe. It’s a show which, in the present, fizzes with energy which seems to erupt from the Earth itself, and which, in retrospect, is far more than the sum of its parts. It’s dynamite theatre that kicks fearlessly through the boundaries of performance itself to deliver something so cutting-edge that they haven’t even invented words for it yet. What does Staged make you feel, you’ll wonder afterwards, and why does it make you feel it? Why do you sympathise with who you sympathise? What are the limits of theatre – of circus – and how do you feel about the way Staged has asked you these questions?
This is the Fringe – there’s a lot of circus and physical theatre concentrated in one space for a month. Every company is trying to do something different: the performers dangle over your heads, there’s a giant revolving fairground-contraption in the middle, it’s in black and white but gradually becomes colour. Hell, there’s even a circus show on a fucking bus this year, where the cast jump around the seats as you drive around the city. There’s so much forced innovation that it’s obvious there’s nothing new to say at all; call it innovation constipation. And onto this landscape gracefully slides Staged, which doesn’t so much reinvent the circus performance as blow it up from the inside and torch the remains.
I wish I could say more – so much more – but I can’t. Just see it; we can talk about it afterwards.