Staging Wittgenstein

Staging Wittgenstein is a difficult production to categorise. Part physical theatre, part academic discourse, part comedy and perhaps even part sculpture; this innovative work of art by Blair Simmons is a truly remarkable creative feat. Two actors, Annie Hägg and Nikita Lebedev, explore the origins and limits of language as understood by philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein all the while encased in enormous white latex balloons.

Staging Wittgenstein succeeds in bringing together philosophy and fun in a short burst of theatre that is entertaining, illuminating and excruciating in equal measure.

First of all, it has to be said that watching Staging Wittgenstein is a gorgeous visual experience. As the audience take their seats, the stage is blanketed with white balloons in every phase of inflation. Simmons, present onstage as a kind of curator figure, oversees the dreamlike space; even before Hägg and Lebedev appear she has managed to create a transporting, visually-charged atmosphere which only intensifies when the piece bursts into life out of this tableau. Hägg and Lebedev, heads protruding from their swollen balloon-bodies, begin the language games, and here Simmons’s training as an artist is clear. Underscoring everything is respect for the aesthetic; well-balanced choreography sets clean lines against the amorphous forms of the balloons. A particularly impressive moment sees the two actors rising from and sinking into their respective containers: the simplicity of the movement produces an exceptionally satisfying image, and sets up the performers as almost Beckettian protagonists.

Clarity of movement plays against the confusions of language. At its heart, this piece is intended to be a physical representation of Wittgenstein’s philosophy of language, with his famous dictum ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ guiding the character development of the two actors, the two players of Wittgenstein’s language games. The representation is very literal, although audience members without any familiarity with the Philosophical Investigations or the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus will struggle to correlate the spoken words of the performance with the physical action.

This is not, however, too much of a problem as the performance is dominated by intense suspense. Almost immediately the theatre becomes a high-pressure container of people: the balloons can, and do, burst at any point. This volatility makes for exciting and adrenaline-fuelled viewing; when combined with the spectacular visuals, it is more than enough to keep anyone occupied. With this added element of tension, the performance – which can be anywhere between twenty and forty-five minutes in length – is sure to have you squirming.

Staging Wittgenstein succeeds in bringing together philosophy and fun in a short burst of theatre that is entertaining, illuminating and excruciating in equal measure.

Reviews by Sam Fulton

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The Blurb

A breathtaking and dynamic combination of physical art, comedy and suspense. Watch as performers squeeze into human-size latex balloons to explore and celebrate language in this groundbreaking, pressure-filled performance. While encased in literal speech bubbles, the troupe examine the creation of language while stretching the restrictive bounds of their balloon world, not knowing when they will pop – which they will. At once profound and hilarious. Making the most comfortable, uncomfortable. Written and directed by Blair Simmons. This truly unique stage production comes to to Edinburgh following previews in New York City.

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