Words: Michael Whitham
This show requires you to surrender completely. Having debuted at the Fringe in 2007 and launched the Edinburgh reputation of one of the festival’s most lauded companies of recent years – Ontroerend Goed – it probably no longer counts as a spoiler to say that this remounting of their first Edinburgh show starts with you being seated in a wheelchair and blindfolded, before your hands are tied. What follows is a complex, unique sensory experience in which you are moved through a space. Rendered submissive, your senses are variously teased and provoked in a series of strange and at times unsettling interactions. Over the course of the show your hearing, smell, touch and taste are all utilised in a journey into a strange and unfamiliar world in which our human longing for intimacy, affection and ritual are carefully exploited.
One of the most impressive elements of Ontroerend Goed’s work is the power they have to call forth the audience’s own memories. The stimuli of the performance tugs on threads from your subconscious, creating personal, emotional resonances which stay with you long after you leave the show.
15 years after they first brought this show to Edinburgh, theatre-goers are a little more accustomed to work which endeavours to create a sense of intimacy between audience and performer, and these days a few of the moments feel a little contrived or on-the-nose. We are a little desensitised, perhaps, and being asked about love by a stranger doesn’t have the same power to surprise and confront it might have done the first time around.
However, this a classic Fringe show for a reason. It is a strange, immersive, unique piece of experiential theatre designed to make you question what you know about power, memory, intimacy and what you think you know about theatre. If you missed in 2007, don’t miss out this time. If you went in 2007, go again and let your imagination take you somewhere new.
The Smile Off Your Face is at C ARTS | C venues | C place until August 28th. Performances take place throughout the day.