Edinburgh Festival Fringe: “Warning: five hours without intermission” reads the blurb, but then “audience can come and go as they please.”
Summerhall (Venue 26)
While this might cause you to breathe a sigh of relief, don’t be deceived: you really need to stay to enjoy this intricately structured, real-time relationship break-up, with its thrillingly improvised dialogue, funny reoccurring jokes, and slick, understated story. Yes, tell yourself you can leave mid-way if it makes it easier for you to commit to what must be the longest show on the Fringe. It will only make it more special when you choose to stay.
In a merry-go-round of alternating roles, the five performers take it in turns to play a nameless, non-gender specific protagonist from New Zealand. This self-contained, reserved individual is on holiday in Scotland with their long-term partner, a contrastingly laid-back and increasingly insensitive figure, who is played by the rest of the cast who all chip in lines of dialogue. Our protagonist wants a romantic, relaxed holiday; their partner is more interested in spending time with a chaotic brother (“he’s in a live house band in Berlin”) – and now the latter is on his way for a surprise a visit.
The simple conflict in other hands might be a familiar comedy-turned-tragedy yet it becomes surprisingly absorbing when delivered through real-time dialogue, full of under-announced subtext, which allows for a far richer exploration of the characters than many shorter plays. The first three hours pass surprisingly fast, and, while the pace slows around the fourth – the self-analytical angst of a couple breaking up gains the relaxing quality of watching the sea – we’re simply waiting for the next big wave to come crashing down – which, eventually, it does.
With a level of skill deliberately undermined by the heightened (banana) costumes, the cast’s incredible focus provides an unusually insightful analysis of how difficult it is to get the balance right between partners, family, friends and personal space.
You have got to feel free to choose to be in a relationship, the play concludes; the minute you don’t, or someone tries to change who you are, the whole thing dies.
It is a poignant moment, made all the more so by the significant amount of time it has taken us to get here, participating in the kind of shared experience that makes the Fringe – and particularly Summerhall – great.
Today and 21 August only. Today 6pm.