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Edinburgh Fringe Reviews 2011 - Free Run / Audience

Free Run
Udderbelly
3 stars
Audience
St Georges West
4 stars
It was inevitable that the phenomena of inner city free running be
turned into a stage show. Like the metal-bashing extravagances of Stomp
and other spectacles dragged off the street before it, trying to make
sense of such a blink and you'll miss it trend from the safety of a
front row seat is a hit and miss affair.

As performed by the members of the 3Run crew, an eight-strong ensemble
of musclebound twenty-somethings who can't help look like a boy band,
Free Run attempts to capture the back-flipping energy of leaping tall
buildings with a few bits of gym equipment and a lot of attitude. This
isn't always easy, despite the high-energy expertise of a troupe whose
only concession to girliness is a young woman expert in martial arts.

As each in turn flings themselves across metal bars and assorted
obstacles that never quite capture the bricks and mortar on the images
that flash onscreen behind them, a narrative of sorts is introduced by
way of a futuristic-looking chase scene. While this ups the dramatic
tension, there's not enough cohesion throughout its undoubtedly
impressive set of physical jerks to sustain a full show.

Strip away the techno soundtrack and the trappings of street culture
that are never quite carried through, and what you're left with is the
sort of old-fashioned circus acrobatics that have been keeping less
active audiences on their toes for centuries. While the energy being
extended here is genuine, there's little sense of danger beyond a show
that needs more dramatic muscle to get to the next level.

Belgium company Ontroerend Goed pre-dated the current wave for
interactive theatre two years ago with their one-on-one exploration of
the dating game, Internal. The company's latest piece, Audience, may
reach for the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of scale, but on
the level of social engineering remains similarly provocative.

Things open chummily enough, with actress Maria Dafneros explaining the
ground rules of the performance/audience contract before breaking
every one of them. Alonfside her three colleagues she bears witness to
a live video feed from an onstage camera-man that focuses on every
self-conscious gesture of those seated prior to a fashion show style
inventory of the room's demographic. This is all so much soft soap,
however, for the faux aggressive attempt to take things even further.

It's a wilfully discomforting tightrope that Alexander Devriendt's
production walks, and if actor Matthieu Sys had picked on someone less
sure of themselves, it could have made for a very different night. Even
so, the company make explicit how easy it is to manipulate en masse,
and if the relationship between football match, stadium rock concert
and fascist rally wasn't clear before, it will be afterwards.

Of course there are safety nets built into the delivery, and in truth
Ontroerend Goed aren't doing anything that Tim Crouch wasn't exploring
in 2010 with his similarly styled The Audience, or indeed that Austrian
playwright Peter Handke did with his self-explanatory solo, Offending
The Audience, in 1971. Yet there's still something unsettling here,
even if it's just the fact that, as we're told from the start, we go
along with everything we're offered, right down to the final applause.

The Herald, August 11 2011

ends

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