highly and rightly disturbing
The Economist | Review
Ellen Macpherson | Fringe Guru
25 Aug, 2012
✭✭✭✭ | Four Stars
Let’s face it. The Edinburgh Fringe is the place for absurd and wacky things, not least absurd and wacky theatre. And really, the only way The Economist was going to get away with tackling the very recent (and very topical) massacre on Utøya Island in Norway was to introduce a little absurdity. Oddly, it works. And yet, there’s a cold and sinister nature to the production that makes the absurd not so much hilarious, but incredibly creepy.
It’s very easy to be the first show dealing with a current and tragic historical event, but it’s extremely hard to be a good one. And I’ll admit, I was afraid I would be witnessing a knee-jerk reaction – a company that wanted to jump on the bandwagon before anyone else did, without thinking of the implications of doing so. But instead of the attention-seeking piece this could have been, I found a well-researched, genuinely entertaining show. And really, at the heart of it, a show can be as controversial and cutting-edge as it likes, but it still has to be entertaining. MKA do a spectacular job.
The production, most likely in an attempt not to get sued, avoids using Anders Brevik’s name – instead naming the main character Andrew Berwick. Nevertheless, this is the undoubtedly story of Breivik – Tobias Manderson-Galvin has threaded together numerous sources, including diaries, Brevik’s manifesto, blog entries, and tweets, to create a stunning and imaginative script.
Of course, it wouldn’t have succeeded had there not been a supremely talented supporting cast. Berwick disturbed us all, but the rest of the actors provided both the entertainment value and thought-provoking observations about lone gunmen and the ideology that leads to such tragedy. Technically, it’s yet another show this Fringe with all the bells and whistles attached – live (and loud) music, masks, props. It might have proved distracting had the play not been essentially about chaos, personal and public. The loudness of the music and the physicality of the production fitted in well.
At times, though, I thought the absurdity got a little much, for example when a steroid junkie uses a cow head for bicep curls in the gym. (It’s funny at first, and then you just wind up thinking, why?) Some of my favourite moments in the play involved no props, just a very clever script – the relatively silent and frill-free scene with Berwick and his buddies at the gun club is a particularly chilling one.
The Economist is more ridiculous than you might think, and it’s probably not everyone’s cup of tea. But make no mistake, it’s still highly and rightly disturbing. It manages to walk that difficult line of getting into a psychopath’s head, making the audience connect to their character without disrespecting the experience of the victims. This is the type of new writing that excites me at the Fringe. It’s still not perfect, but it can stop relying on being the “first” play written in response to the massacre on Utøya Island… and just focus on being an excellent one.