Searchers at Edinburgh Fringe 2019: spine-tingling
We’re in the Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre. It’s a bit out the way, true, but that doesn’t quite explain why we’re in a room that seats at least 300 people and there are only five of us. It’s 10:15 pm? Maybe that’s why, although it’s a Saturday night and it’s not exactly like 10:15 is ridiculously late. Most likely, Searchers has a pretty crap poster and there’s nobody out flyering it during the day. It could just be bad luck. In any case, there’s hardly anyone here. That’s a shame, because Searchers is a spine-tingling showcase of how good gig theatre can be when it’s done right. Flanked by a three-piece backing band, Taigé Lauren’s bravura show is a live-gig examination of what it means to be an American by way of dusky Americana, hard rock, and exquisite poetry.
Flitting seamlessly between spoken word and song, Lauren takes up the persona of Mary, a woman who’s lost her perspective in life and who goes searching for her identity. This search, mirroring the central quest in John Ford’s titular opus, takes her across the breadth of the country, from East to West. But its not just physical distance on our minds – locating the heart of the American identity requires a deep dive through the cultural and political history of the nation, and Searchers becomes increasingly divorced from conventional ideas about time and space.
America – which is, at the moment, a nation divided and may have always been a nation divided – is a landscape of conflicts. Mary is proud to be an American, but must simultaneously understand that her pride – nay, her very existence – was built off the back of the unjustified suffering of others. It is a land of wealth and promise, but also vast income inequality and dead-end backstreets that litter thousands of forgotten towns. It is a land of opportunity – but mostly if you’re wealthy, white, and male.
In a breathtaking sequence, Mary finds an Asian tourist kicked out a diner by a racist owner, only to send said owner cowering with a plastic gun before running off with the waitress. It’s a hazy collage of popular politics, foundational myths, and spaghetti westerns. And, you must remember, it’s all backed by a roaring band. That’s but one episode in a constantly evolving tapestry of narrative ideas that all feel revelatory and beautifully constructed.
There’s a tangible flow of energy throughout the show – one that vibrates with the times, through epochs and genres, good and bad, light and dark, east to west. Lauren’s band soundtrack it all with beautiful, powerful guitar solos and perfect harmonising. Her sense of rhythm and wordplay is absolutely immaculate – lines flying out of speakers like percussion, verse weaponised as music.
Now here’s the bit for all the clowns who couldn’t understand why What Girls Are Made Of was faultable. This is a show ‘about something’ – it has themes, ideas, and ambitions; provocative ones at that. The show relays a personal journey but does so in a way that demonstrates the development of its main character – her ideas and her personality. As an audience, we’re challenged and feel like we’ve learned something new over the last hour and a bit. If there’s pain, we learn from it and succeed in spite of it, not because of it. If there’s emotion, it’s earned – transcendent, stemming from ideas and realisations rather than from a catalogue of tragedies. In other words, this is a show with something to say – political gig theatre that pulls no punches with its ideological stance or beautiful energy.
I’m not exactly sure how to make a show big, but I am sure that with the right marketing/PR team, Searchers could be an absolutely huge, major-venue-filling piece of work that’d receive more than its fair share of 5* reviews. It’s a spine tingling, thoughtful, at-times ecstatic show that probes the depths of American consciousness to search for some common ground for us all to stand on. You should go see it now, so that when it’s really big in a few years’ time, you can say you saw it ‘before it was cool’.