Theatre review: Instructions For Border Crossing

Edinburgh Festival Fringe: There are dozens of plays in Edinburgh this year dealing with the subject of borders, and border crossings; in an increasingly unstable world, it's hardly surprising that one of its great international arts gatherings '“ itself affected, this year, by the inability of some scheduled performers to gain entry to Britain '“ should reflect on the issue with some intensity.

Daniel Bye - Instructions for Border Crossing
Daniel Bye - Instructions for Border Crossing

Northern Stage @ Summerhall (Venue 26)


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Among all those shows, though, there’s something quietly demanding and unforgettable about Instructions For Border Crossing, the latest work by Middlesbrough writer and performer Dan Bye, commissioned by the ARC in Stockton-on-Tees with six other theatre around England. For this show, Bye invents a mythical performance artist called Edward Shorter, who apparently spends all his time on and around borders, challenging them, and staging short, disruptive scripted dialogues. Bye, meanwhle, presents himself live as a kind of humble lecturer, describing Shorter’s work to the audience with the help both of individual audience members who join him on stage to play jenga and create visual and sound effects, and of the audience as a whole, which is increasingly invited to read, in chorus, the parts of would-be travellers and refugees, or of border guards and officials, in the border dialogues.

The effect is ever more disturbing and thought-provoking, as we begin to wonder how many of the privileges of residence in relatively peaceful Britain we simply accept as our birthright, and might – if we had to – defend more viciously than most liberal-minded people like to imagine.

This is a deceptively mild-mannered show, that ends by forcing each of us to recognise our own inner border guard; and if Bye seems too gentle a figure to take us on such a challenging and at times beautifully written journey – well, it is one of his strengths as a writer and performer to catch us off guard, and hold us there, until we begin to change.

Until today, 4:40pm.