‘The Great Yes, No, Don’t Know 5 Minute Theatre Show (Edinburgh Coll’ege: 24 June ’14)

Loch Ness Monster  Experience

Karen Fraser Docherty & Bruce Morton in Andrew Learmonth’s The #1 Loch Ness Monster Experience

“We’re waiting for applause from Dumfries.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

“We’re waiting for applause from Dumfries” the words tumble down into the performance space from the AV desk, located up behind the cheap seats. These are the kind of words you should expect to hear, waiting for the next show to take to the virtual stage. Live performances are being streamed from seven live hubs across Scotland. The one we’re at is in the smart environs of Edinburgh College – the FE entity spliced from Stevenson, Jewel and Esk as well as Telford Colleges.

The long intervals between performances provides plenty of time for gazing, espresso in hand, at the car park. Look right and you see Granton Gasholder No. 1, still there, listed and historic. The Great Yes, No, Don’t Know 5 minute Theatre Show was the espressos, punchy flavours packed tightly into tiny wee cups. The intervals were the view, the neutral palate-cleansing glass of tap water with which to prepare for the next full taste.

We saw only five mini shows from the over 180 scheduled. We look forward to seeing how the National Theatre of Scotland intends to save and make available this ‘democratic, dramatic, response to the theme of independence’.

Vote with your Feet by Anita John moved its audience left/YES to right/NO across the stage, with the helpful Don’t Know white line down the middle. 39 questions or statements sorted the adventurous from the careful: ie. “Will you go to bed on the night of September 18th?”; “Will you pay for the removal of nuclear weapons from Scotland?”; “Should Alex Salmond receive a knighthood?” In other words, The Thirty Nine Steps … on the run to independence or no. Three seconds to decide.

The format was reminiscent of those Facebook memes which determine which George Orwell book you are (Burmese Days and Homage To Catalonia in our respective cases). If the hurried pace was intended to encourage conversation it failed. The only one of us who voted ‘no’ to the question “Will you vote on September 18th” would have liked to have explained that they have a postal vote.

Democracy, produced by John Naples-Campbell, narrated the recent rioting in Venezuela from the perspective of an expat Scot out there teaching. 3 student actors covered a nuanced spectrum ranging through concern, bewilderment, constant fear and immediate alarm. Technical difficulties meant that we saw the performance 3 times. It lost nothing in the retelling. In fact, rather like a John Constable landscape, new features emerged with each review.

Ade Oshineye stood still and told the desperate story of Ruby, fighting for her own survival (call it anguished independence at a stretch) and that of baby Pearl in The House Next Door. You have to wonder what the neighbours were doing. Part angry rap at incestuous violence, part offended lament that this could happen, its intensity was in Oshineye’s quiet telling. Clearly one to watch, Oshineye moved like a butterfly under his heavy load, delivering the drama with gracious gravity.

Student theatre is many things. Most often it’s anxious: body image, pollution, the bestial nature of beastliness. Free Wifi Available took on the ultra-contemporary concern that social media isolates. Is constant connectivity really permanent disconnection? No. Clearly a medium that allows friends and families, oceans and continents apart, to communicate freely, intimately and daily is no bad thing. But for the sake of the old skool mediums who have a commercial interest in bashing open access formats let’s pretend it is.

The movement and staging were bright, bold and effective. Square red tape boxes on the floor (a stage hand’s wet dream – perform in there and no where else) supercharged an atmosphere already made moody by traverse staging.

The #1 Loch Ness Monster Experience  by Andrew Learmonth is in Drumnadrochit after ‘Nessie’ has stomped it to pieces. The cuddly toy of the parcel shelf is nae mair. The tourist economy is wrecked or at least is looking for redefinition via Godzilla. Hamish and Agnes stand in what is left of their shop and dispute the consequences. It is very funny, wickedly canny, and brilliantly Scottish. The BBC should take it nationwide – that’s UK wide – late on the evening of September 17th.

We watched these few pieces in PASS (Edinburgh College’s Performing Arts Studio) and they demonstrated all the character and enthusiasm that an educational setting should provide and that the producers of The Great Yes, No, Don’t Know 5 minute Theatre Show could have wished for. Hopefully the full event realised their ambitious purpose.

The proof will be in how the material collected will be distributed. Will we be able to see each play online separately? Will we be able to see a profile of each participant? Yes, this was live theatre on a virtual stage, but no, that does not mean it cannot be revisited.

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Reviewers: Alan Brown & Dan Lentell (Seen 24 June)

Visit National Theatre of Scotland Yes, No, Don’t Know homepage here.