18/8/09, Pleasance Dome (Edinburgh Fringe)
At last something really, really good. A rumination on suicide featuring a man who jumps off Beachy Head, his wife, the Eastbourne pathologist who deals with the consequences and the two film-makers who accidentally capture footage of him leaping.
It reminded us of Katie Mitchell's After Dido, seen at the Young Vic, for its use of video and the way props and equipment were seamlessly wheeled on and off. It was very slick and well-rehearsed. But on this occasion (and unlike Dido) the paraphernalia was justified, the video integrated into the piece.
And there were some beautifully simple touches in the staging too, like the large wooden board flapped up to create a draft, mimicking the wind as an actor stood at the cliff's edge.
S pointed out the excellent use of music, almost throughout, which you don't often get in the theatre. And the clever scene in which the film-makers try out different bits of music as possible background for an interview, thus deconstructing what the play as a whole was doing.
I found it absorbing and technically impressive; D and S found it moving as well, especially a scene in the phone box at Beachy Head in which the suicide talks to the Samaritans, just about the only time we hear his voice at length. It's the scene which explains his motivation (along with a children's story left behind in a notebook, which his wife later reads) and that was gratifying too: the writers might have left the whole thing a puzzle, and it would have worked perfectly well, but would have been less satisfying.
I thought the dialogue took second place to the production and the performances, while perfectly decent, weren't showy. But it was highly informative (especially in the pathologist's monologues) and S pointed out moments of poetry. When the wife sees the footage she remarks that at the top of the cliff he was Stephen; at the bottom just a body.
I took a professional interest in the film-makers' ethical dilemma: whether to keep and use or to delete the footage in the first place; when and how to tell the wife that they had it (they flunked that one badly).
They call themselves Analogue Productions and devised the show between them. Hannah Barker (who played the pathologist) and Liam Jarvis directed it, from a script by three writers including Emma Jowett who played the wife. Original music by Simon Slater. Sound design by Alex Garfath. Multimedia design by Thor Hayton. Look out for them.