Standby for Tape Back-Up

This is a show about seeing patterns in the random; about time’s ability to change perception; about coming to terms with death and working through depression. It’s surreal and fragmented and strangely hypnotic, even if its ambitious, weighty concepts fail to culminate in anything particularly meaningful.

A fascinating and impressively realised concept

Ross Sutherland gives a mesmerising performance as a man haunted by the death of his grandfather. The only significant link remaining to him is one of his battered old VHS tapes, with countless recordings the pair made over the years layered one over the other. After his hard-drive crashes in 2010 and he loses all of its precious memories, the videotape becomes the key to unlocking the mysteries of his life; each time he watches it, he discovers something new about himself, his grandfather and their shared history. In thrall to the power of the tape, he obsesses over its fragmented, nonsensical tale, looking for patterns that aren’t there – or are they?

Behind Sutherland is a projected image of the videotape, which is also displayed on a TV in the corner of the room, attached to the VCR machine. He alters the tape’s speed and position with a remote control, slowing the frames of Ghostbusters to a halt and racing through the opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Sutherland intersperses candid, conversational monologues about the images onscreen with captivating sections of musically-accompanied spoken word which interweave the man’s life story and the fractured, looping ‘stories’ of the tape. Puns and actions relating to what is happening onscreen rely heavily on Sutherland’s timing, which is never anything less than impeccable.

It’s a fascinating and impressively realised concept, which is why it’s such a shame that it never delivers a killing blow; there are exhilarating moments that make the audience sit forward, ears pricked up, but frustratingly the triumphant crests of these waves disappear without trace, making the exercise feel more like a vehicle for Sutherland’s entrancing spoken word than a beautifully constructed piece of theatre. The final monologue reveals that this is indeed too much to hope for, eschewing the potential for intelligent recalls in favour of disappointingly trite reflections on patterns, grief, and acceptance.

Reviews by Larry Bartleet

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The Blurb

‘Two years ago, I found a videotape in my loft. On it: one and a half films, one quiz show and two sitcoms. Somehow it became the story of my life’. Ross Sutherland attempts a daring experiment in synchronicity. Using nothing but found-footage from one of his granddad’s old videotapes, Ross attempts to draw out his entire life story. ‘One of the stand out shows of the Fringe’ (Stage). ‘This is a wonderfully layered piece, touching, funny and linguistically thrilling’ ***** (Exeunt).