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The ME ★★★★
Edinburgh Zoo (Venue 124)
Until Sunday 28th August 2016
In a world where theatre and the media is often dominated by male stories and perspectives, I was excited to see an all-female cast in The ME, especially when they’re dealing with the topic of science which is traditionally handed to the men. Although I don’t want to give the impression that this play was all about them being women. Indeed, The Sun Apparatus Theatre Company performed with such confidence and skill, engulfing me in the surreal world of their play, that I soon forgot the reason I was initially interested in the show.
The play follows four characters, some of which feel more like dreams than people. Melody (Katherine Vince) is a health obsessed, insecure wreck, who Vince plays with a wonderful and vivid desperation. Her long suffering yet endearing maid Lita (Dana Etgar) tends to her every need. At the beginning you would assume Lita will be the sympathetic sad story of the narrative, trapped in job that she only feels apathetic towards. Yet Etgar delivers to us so much more than a sad character; she is the philosopher, the unexpected nightmare, the hero of the play. Etagr’s performance is layered and fabulous. It is on unsuspecting Lita that Melody and her new scientist friend Kristen (Justina Kaminskaitė) trial an immortality drug – the ME itself. It’s title cleverly encapsulates Melody’s, but also humanity’s insecurity over pending death. In this play the ME demonstrates our fear that we would only be whole if we were never going to die and be forgotten. Then the introduction of Peppy (Sarah Kenney) adds another level of absurdity. Claiming to be Lita’s sister, her dreamlike presence and frightening duplicity is like some ghoulish guardian angel come to apparently prevent (but it seems more like profit off) Lita’s abuse. Kenney’s faux smiles are some of the scariest things in the play, and some of the most brilliant.
I don’t usually take to Brechtian theatre because the absurdity undercuts your empathy for the character (to be fair, that is the point). But with this, although there were sections which were not to my taste, I still felt the full effect of the show’s genius. Even at the beginning when the show was at its most naturalistic, you could feel the surrealism creeping in. Their movements were like clockwork, which demonstrates the performers’ talented timing, but also foreshadows the regression into absurdism which is fated for the characters later.
Through a frightening lens, writer Bill Gallagher demonstrates the elitism and classism that taints our society. When Kristen explains the need to test this drug on another human before Melody may take it, the audience can already sense that their next move will be towards vulnerable looking Lita sleeping on the floor. Kaminskaitė’s cold approach encapsulates beautifully what empathy and feeling we can sacrifice in ourselves when taken over by ambition. The way they close in round Lita like animals is a staunch reimagining of how one life can be valued above another.
But Lita counters this violation of her consent and choices, with finding for herself what it means to be alive. The surrealism in the middle of the play is framed with the masquerade of naturalism at the beginning, and then again at the end. The cyclical structure roots the audience in what matters. Lita shows that immortality is insignificant compared to just being alive, as she packs her bag and puts on a bright yellow coat, she is finally ‘going to live’.
I was a little upset they didn’t leave it there. With Lita walking back on stage and assuming her position at the beginning as the maid waiting for her demanding boss’ next command, perhaps the message was that we are doomed to tear ourselves apart with our own mortality and never ‘going to live’. But I think it would have been more powerful and perhaps more useful to see Lita make the realisation her self-obsessed boss never could; that life is more important than one day dying. But despite the ending not being what I would have wanted, I was delighted to come across such creative and thought provoking theatre. Especially when they affected me with techniques and styles that I don’t even like that much. I mean, that must have meant they were pretty darn good.
Review by Jackie Edwards
Tickets cost £10 (£8 conc) and are available from the usual Edinburgh Fringe outlets and online at https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/me