Theatre review: Tank

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There’s a point early on in this new piece from last year’s breakout Fringe success Breach Theatre where a performer/character briefly considers what sort of music might be most appropriate for a tale of drug-assisted scientific experiments in 1963, quickly settling upon “that Japanese song from Inherent Vice.”

Star rating: ****

Venue: Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

The stylish 2014 retro-hipster film adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel by Paul Thomas Anderson is a good choice, for were the eccentric and ideas-laden plays of Breach ever taken to the screen, they would be a natural fit for the director’s singular and somewhat weird vision.

Last year, The Beanfield was part documentary piece on the infamous conflict between police and New Age travellers at Stonehenge in 1985, and part gloriously irreverent attempt to turn it into a battle re-enactment.

This year, Tank is more of a straight documentary; the true(ish) story of what has been dubbed “the worst experiment in the world”, the time that NASA funded Stanford University in California to attempt to converse with dolphins. In English, of course.

Yet only some of the tapes from the experiments have been restored and made public, causing the excellent, irreverent four-piece ensemble (Joe Boylan, Craig Hamilton, Ellice Stevens and Victoria Watson) to break character and inform us that parts of what follows have been made up.

In doing so, they and directors Billy Barrett and Stevens (all five are jointly responsible for the text) have relied heavily on urban legend that a female researcher was 
barricaded in a watertight room with Peter the dolphin – Boylan in a rubber mask, clicking poignantly and incomprehensibly – for weeks, during which time the creature was plied with LSD and induced into a sexual relationship with the researcher.

It’s a raw, joyous psych-rock freakout of a show, at times transcendent in its silliness, yet at others steely-eyed in its focus on the West’s arrogant cultural imperialism and humanity’s capacity to mistreat nature, even when we think the cause is right.

Until 20 August. Today 10:30am.

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