(Can This Be) Home

It’s seldom fun to leave a venue thinking: "Well, that's an hour of my life I'm never getting back." Especially when some audience members stood up to applaud at the end. Nor is it fun to subsequently write a review that explains why; not least because it requires reliving the whole experience and attempting to explain that, while a performer may have something interesting to say, the way in which they do so… definitely isn’t.

For a show supposedly about connection and communication, there’s absolutely no chemistry between the pair on stage.

In the show notes, (Can This Be) Home is described as "not your average show", as "half music gig, half spoken word". What that official introduction fails to mention is the degree to which these two halves fail to gel, with Iceland-born Kolbrún Björt Sigfúsdóttir’s low-key poetry intercut, with the subtlety of a stopped cassette player, by Tom Oakes's somewhat gasping flautist reminisces. She speaks of that "wonderful feeling discovering somewhere you belong"; he talks of tunes and people encountered on his travels round Europe and, in particular, Scandinavia. Only towards the end do they perform together; too late.

This is, of course, a Brexit show, scheduled for the eve of the day the UK was supposed to leave the EU. (Theresa May even screwed that up, forcing Sigfúsdóttir to read hasty updates from her notebook.) What we get are the thoughts of a woman who found a welcoming home in the land "of the Spice Girls and The Clash", who is now increasingly horrified by the "othering" of numerous minorities, including "foreigners". A woman who has comes to Edinburgh, where three in four votes cast were for Remain, to make her protest—talk of preaching to the converted!

Sigfúsdóttir is described in those show notes as "a director, playwright and dramaturg", but she's not the most engaging of performers; I found her pious air of mannered nervousness distracting, and contagious. Oakes, meanwhile, has the air of a friendly dog but the confusing thing is, that for a show supposedly about connection and communication, there’s absolutely no chemistry between the pair on stage. While she performs, he reads a book; when he's playing, she's busy making clay models of a house. Frankly, the subtlety of symbolism here is topped by the red-lit stage when she gets really angry.

Worst of all, for a show described as being "literally in the making since the summer before the vote", (and given the multi-national make-up of its contributors during the development process), you'd think it could've ended up a tad less low-tech (tape recorder, a splat of clay on the floor, small unfolded map and some polaroids), and less like something put together one rainy afternoon by a couple of complete amateurs.

Reviews by Paul Fisher Cockburn


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The Blurb

The past is a foreign country we can never return. Half music gig, half spoken word, Kolbrún examines the immigrant experience of Brexit, while flautist and composer Tom Oakes plays the tunes his travels have inspired. On the eve of the official Brexit date, (Can This Be) Home, a show literally in the making since the summer before the EU referendum, takes stock of where we are now. Can we ever feel at home again? Brite Theater is a multi-award-winning company known for their unorthodox stagings. (Winner of the Prague Fringe New Territories Award 2018.)

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