I was not too surprised to read that The Project was specially created for the Edinburgh Fringe: it has that 'experimental' feel. A theatre company puts on a reality show which attempts to rehabilitate unknowing participants with conditions or traumas, and the show centres around their rehabilitation 'process'. In this show the participant is Amelia, a young woman whose lips have turned yellow due to an inability to process the grief of her father's death properly. The other actors are in competition with one another to 'win' by being the primary player in facilitating her recovery. We, the audience, are of course complicit in this ethically questionable process by watching and creating - they tell us - a higher viewer demand with every show.
The Project is ambitious. It tries to challenge our conceptions about the nature and purpose of art and theatre and to make us think about our role as a participating audience in any work of art. ‘This is not a performance’, we are told. Later, ‘You are a part of this project’. It's thought-provoking stuff. Having said this, The Project's message does feel a little overdone. It's not that unusual for theatre to make its audience think about the purpose of theatre. We hear a long monologue about the words ‘I love you’ being a cliche, an attempt to live up to a romantic ideal. The idea that language prescribes thought isn't really revolutionary enough to warrant so long a speech, surely?
However, the idea, if not the most original in conception, was very well-executed. This is an immaculately put-together piece of theatre. The actors are strong and there have been some excellent directorial decisions. The space has been used to its full potential; the performers sit in the audience, taking notes, addressing us directly, always keeping us aware of our active presence in the project, never letting us sink back into passivity. The use of physical theatre really adds: the actors applaud the confused and scared Amelia with blank faces, dancing around her, forcing us to think about the manipulation of vulnerable participants for our entertainment.
This is an engaging and thoughtful piece and, amid the chaos of the Fringe, raises some pertinent questions about our motives for enjoying theatre at all. If you want to be challenged, to be made self-aware, and to watch a well-designed performance, you could do a lot worse than this.