Theatre review: Feral | Economy of Thought

Edinburgh Fringe Festival Scotsman review: Feral at Summerhall (Venue 26); Economy of Thought at Assembly George Square, reviewed by Mark Fisher

Two years on from the riots that broke out in Tottenham before spreading to other parts of the UK, commentators are speculating on whether such civil unrest could happen again. There’s a feeling that for as long as inequalities in wealth persist, for as long as urban alienation continues, there’s every chance it might.

Accordingly, it’s a theme bubbling up on the Fringe. In Chalk Farm, reviewed in Glasgow last September by The Scotsman’s Joyce McMillan and now being given a slick, engaging production by ThickSkin at the Underbelly, Kieran Hurley and Julia Taudevin address the London riots directly.

From the vantage point of a tower block on a north London estate, they illustrate how the causes of a riot are a complex package of adolescent opportunism, running with the pack and social disenfranchisement.

As a companion piece, you’ll find no better than Feral (★★★★) by Edinburgh’s Tortoise in a Nutshell. This mesmerisingly inventive show presents unrest as a symptom of public policy that puts profit ahead of community. The opening of Supercade, a soulless casino, in a seaside town, brings not the promised prosperity but an escalating catalogue of shop closures, dereliction and violence. It’s a simple thesis, but the particular joy of this captivating show is in its live animation technique.

While the performers get busy in front of us, their black-and-white landscape takes shape on a screen above.

Before the chaos takes over, the company has lovingly built a community, shop by vintage shop, neighbour by quirky neighbour.

Their effort means we feel the loss much more acutely when things turn dysfunctional. Technically, visually, aurally and politically, it’s a tremendous show.

Sad though it is to consider the victims of social malaise, it’s often more illuminating to focus on the perpetrators. That’s what Patrick McFadden’s Economy of Thought (★★★) has on its side.

While the anti-capitalist protesters swarm in the streets below, the play by Odd Rituals takes us into the company of the sixth-floor bankers who are arrogantly tossing £50 notes out of the window. This is where the society-changing decisions are really being made.

It’s a great premise for a play, and McFadden gives some flavour of the boorish behaviour of the wealthy elite until he gets sidetracked by a soap-opera narrative about a green-tech investor and her journalist sister, and loses sight of his chief political target.

Despite what the flyers will tell you, it’s nothing like a cross between The Office and The Thick Of It, but it has pertinent points to make about ethics, responsibility and the true causes of instability.

• Feral: until 25 August; today 8pm. Economy of Thought: until 26 August; today 2:40pm

Originally published in The Scotsman

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