Theatre review: Fight Night

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Fight Night at Traverse Theatre 
(Venue 15), reviewed by Joyce McMillan

DEMOCRACY: it’s what we fight for, the proudest achievement of the West; yet as the 21st century unfolds, it’s difficult to avoid the nagging feeling that it’s not really working any more, in terms of offering real choice about the kind of society we want to live in.

Fight Night, playing at the Traverse, is a complex, unsettling, flawed and occasionally brilliant piece of exploratory theatre, from the acclaimed Belgian group Ontroerend Goed, about what has gone wrong, about the toxic relationship between the media and the spectacle of politics, and about the damaging flaw at the heart of the democratic ideal – the tyranny of the majority, and its power to bully, overrule and ostracise those who disagree.

So we enter the theatre, and are handed a little personal electronic voting device on which to register our preferences; the results appear on screens above the stage. And we’re hardly in our seats before the presenter-cum-master-of-ceremonies, in a dapper bow tie, is asking us to make an absurd instant choice among five candidates of whom we know nothing; needless to say, the pretty young blonde woman with the smiley face gets most votes in this first round.

It’s clear that we are in a world half-way between a Saturday night game show and a dumbed-down, personality-driven pre-election politics programme. Even as the competition intensifies, the candidates offer no ideology, no policy, just vague job-interview assertions about why they would make good leaders.

And at first, all this seems a little dull and familiar; the sheer, everyday vacancy of the game-show formula hardly needs repetition. As the competition reaches its climax, though, one of the surviving candidates shifts his tone, and begins to incite us, the voters, to reject the system that is offering such a shallow and limited choice, to turn in our little voting machines, and to occupy the stage. And from this moment, Fight Night develops into a vital exploration – conducted by all of us, and brilliantly led by Sophie Cleary, as the leading candidate, and Roman Vaculic as the rebel – into why we cling to our democratic institutions despite their failures, and what the alternatives might look like; and how, in the end, we deal with dissent, in a big society or a small room where the majority have decided, but a large minority beg to disagree.

MORE INFO: Fight Night is at Traverse Theatre

Originally published in The Scotsman

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