Continuing the streaming from the Northern Stage at Edinburgh was a very unique experience coming from Sheffield-based Third Angel. As the world seems to get bigger, our understanding of it gets less reliable. How on earth can you know all the places you’ve been, let alone those you haven’t?
Taking a long time in the making, What I Heard About the World has been in development for over five years and has gone through several incarnations. You can tell this on the stage, a play that tries to visit every country in the world is going to have to cut corners. Presumably with every performance you are going to see the more successful tales that translate well to the stage, each tale apparently having apparently been verified by the writing team.
Initially, I found the chatty, conversional style to be a bit jarring with what the three actors were trying to tell us. A scene of one character trying to drink a pint of salt water to alleviate global warming and then vomiting it back up didn’t exactly inspire me either. However, it quickly clicks what the trio are trying to do in highlighting the tensions between storytelling and facts whilst reflecting what this says about our attitudes towards the world and each other.
Like a twisted version of QI, supposed urban myths are thrown at the audience, perhaps surprisingly the majority seem to be true. Comedic enactments of the particular situations described ensue. From Isreali radio’s silence to pop-up cardboard fathers, a variety of situations are presented to the audience. Yet, you’re never quite sure whether or not to believe the narrators, such is the combined power and ambiguity of their delivery.
Thankfully, Alex Kelly, Chris Thorpe and Jorge Andrade, the three actors concerned do deliver their lines with a deal of gusto and conviction. Were it not for them, the whole play would fall flat. Their playful delivery and tempo of wavering from joking to seriousness unnerves your perception of events as they play out.
The play also seizes the chance to be topical when discussing Russian protestors, much to the delight of the audience when a banner proclaiming ‘Free Pussy Riot’ is paraded across the stage. Raising the issue of media presentation in a tactful and non-preachy way, the bloody finale considers what the perception of a massacre is and how far that can be applied to the continual reports we hear.
A very surprising play for me, who had initially been very turned off, but the three actors engaging presentation, and the very unique and diverse experience of the play won me around. What I Heard About the World‘s main success is in challenging the armchair traveller – those who believe they can have seen and experienced it all through the comfort of their own little bubble – just like the bubble of those on stage.
Guilt inducing, convention challenging and well-researched, it will surely provoke discussion amongst attendees. Shaking the digital age, it highlights how, in a world with audio and visual representations of every kind of place and culture exist, we don’t really know a thing. Admittedly, I don’t think it is a play for everyone, the different style of presentation and lack of a cohesive plot may put some off – but then, surely it is plays like this embody the spirit of Fringe theatre.
The Fiction Stroker gives What I Heard About the World four strokes out of five: