With final legal restrictions to do with the pandemic being lifted yesterday, there probably couldn’t be a more appropriately titled Edinburgh Fringe online show than Get Your Life Back. It’s a student production from Queen Mary Theatre Company that satirises the modern reality game show genre in which a bunch of wannabefamous people are brought together and let loose on each other while the public tune in to watch and then gradually vote the participants out until a winner emerges. In this case the prize is to “get your life back” because it is all taking place after nearly 1,100 days of “The Shutdown” an event forcing the population to stay in their homes for the duration. The Executives who have ordered this have also come up with the game show and it would appear that there is no shortage of aspiring contenders for odious presenter Clive Valentine to manipulate. And so content creator Jolene, rapidly distancing couple Claire and Tim Cinnamon, diffident student Brucette with her stuffed cat Meow Meow and permaslob Debbie McGee (no, not that Debbie McGee) prepare to do tactical battle for supremacy.
Writers Lewis Taylor and Alexandra Craveiro seem to have taken their main inspiration from Channel 4’s The Circle. They do take aim at quite a lot of targets – possibly too many – and include a number of tropes which any modern TV watcher will recognise such as the deliberately mismatched contestants, the psychological manipulation, the “we’ll be back for the reveal after this break” moment, the overstretched pregnant pause before the big announcement, the tasks and sudden twists in the rules – you know the drill. In a subplot there are some telling moments about workplace behaviour although the outcome of this strand can be seen coming a mile off. There are also some pot shots at subliminal advertising, product placement (though that may have been unintentional) and virtual AI assistants such as Alexa and Siri. In this world they have Orbit which is used as a communication tool between the contestants and has one of the best lines: “Would you like me to translate your blubbering?”
It’s all very Black Mirror with hints that those voted off are meeting some sort of grisly fate – this should perhaps have been explored further. But in the main, it’s an entertaining 50 minutes which develops nicely although there really isn’t any sort of end to speak of. The young cast play the different types to the hilt and if they do end up as caricatures that’s all in keeping with the real thing as far as I’m concerned.
For my second piece I thought it was high time to see a real life show as opposed to one recorded as live which is the status of many of the online Edinburgh offerings. This was in the form of a piece from Chronic Insanity whose second 12 plays in 12 months project I have been following with interest. I’m not sure whether this show counts towards that target as it’s actually a revival of one from their first season of a dozen but as I hadn’t seen it, it was at least fresh to me. In its original concept it was a series of 52 filmed short scenes on the subject of death and dying. Viewers were given an hour to work through as many of these as they could based on the turn of a card (either actual or virtual) such that no two people would ever see exactly the same outcomes in the same order. It was a bold conceit and made even bolder in this iteration by the scenes all being performed by just one person, CI’s artistic director Joe Strickland.
He shuffles a pack, sets an egg timer running, turns over a card and he’s away giving us an array of characters in vignettes that range from the serious to the comic but all of which explore and reflect upon the end which must eventually come to all of us. He worked his way through about a dozen monologues before the timer ran out (cue significant reflective moment) some of which fare better than others but because they are brief do not outstay their welcome and Strickland is skilled enough to give us plenty of variety in form, content and characterisation.
It’s a fascinating experiment which is being repeated with different permutations over the next few days (the ticket gives you access to all versions). Having a cynical turn of mind, I couldn’t shake off the suspicion that it wasn’t all as random as claimed. However, I have been assured that there really are 52 different scenarios and that the actor is absolutely reacting to the turn of the card and launching into whatever scene is appropriate. That is totally impressive – as a feat of memory if nothing more. I also enjoyed the skill with which it was all done and as I have learned from watching other Chronic Insanity shows it is yet another idea which is full of invention and which pushes at the boundaries. This show (or at least this version of this show) is full of mordant humour. One of the best pieces was the first where Strickland played a distraught and weeping eulogiser at a funeral liberally mashing up quotes on mortality from Shakespeare – the punchline is (sorry) to die for.
Today’s bonus Scenes For Survival piece: Clearing by Morna Pearson is a brief monologue about a teenager who shuttles between her estranged parents during lockdown but just might be better off in the woods. Ashleigh More gives good value and the laugh out loud punchline is another that is well worth the wait.
Get Your Life Back and 52 Souls are available via the Edinburgh Fringe Festival click here
Scenes For Survival pieces are available from the NTS website – click here; a number are also available on BBC iPlayer – click here
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