Edinburgh Festival Fringe: There’s a rule reiterated at the start of many Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meetings: “What you see here, what you hear here, when you leave here, let it stay here.”
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)
It’s a considerate and understandable guideline to establish when people are sharing intimate, often painful personal details, though it does present challenges to the critic reviewing a verbatim theatre performance set in an AA meeting.
Nevertheless, here goes. Meeting at 33, though listed as playing at the Pleasance Courtyard, is in fact staged across the street at the Salvation Army homeless service.
Down a fluorescent-lit, grey and white corridor, participants enter a square room containing Bible-stocked bookshelves and a ring of plastic orange chairs, and are invited to help themselves to polystyrene cups of tea and coffee before the meeting starts. (It’s so immersive, I had to clumsily check with the cast member holding the door that I wasn’t actually interrupting a real meeting.)
In the wrong hands, this could be seen as, at best, tacky, and at worst, exploitative of some vulnerable groups’ genuine lived experience for the sake of middle-class Fringe-goer entertainment. Second Circle Theatre are not the wrong hands.
The following hour, drawn from anonymous interviews with addicts, is a plain-spoken and humanely presented account of what takes place between the plastic chairs.
There’s no division between cast members and audience; the performances are so natural, you’re unlikely to know you’re sitting next to an actor until they speak up.
One minor quibble: the show does not appear to have been cast locally, and it’s noticeable that every contributor speaks with an English accent.
There are also numerous opportunities for non-cast members to join in, to respond to the issues raised in a safe place.
While not without incident, the show never descends into tabloid sensationalism or mawkishness. An honest and affecting hour.
Until 18 August. Today 6.30pm and 7.30pm.