Edinburgh Fringe 2015 Review: The Outsider

A surreal, charismatic display of technological genius helps this one man concept project overcome some lumpiness

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Venue: New Town Theatre

Combining film with theatre requires common sense and good judgement. Use too much film, and you may as well not have bothered with the theatre; use too little, and you may as well not have bothered with the film. Polarised attitudes to famed multimedia auteur Katie Mitchell’s approach to using live camera work on-stage have served in the last ten years to illustrate the distress the marriage ignites in modern dramatists and traditionalists alike.

In trying to combine film, theatre and magical illusion, it isn’t too much of a stretch to assume that Janne Raudaskoski’s one-man tour de force The Outsider is setting itself up to fail. Yet Raudaskoski short-circuits multimedia chaos by using illusion to unite film with theatre, turning two door-shaped screens from mirrors into sentient televisions, into portals and, by that virtue, stage ‘entrances and exits’. It’s mind and genre bending, a postmodern, post-Freudian exploration of an ‘oustider’ who falls to earth and undergoes several stages of development, each picked out in red, electronic, stock exchange lettering. Its surrealism is matched by its entirely captivating sentimentality, as Raudaskoski’s Who-like, metaphorical blank page in lime green tights and a Charlie Chaplain suit encounters Earthling technology, a work life, love, parenthood, alcohol, violence and finally love again.

And then there’s the bubbles. One pot for each of the audience, and one for the outsider. It becomes apparent that we will learn as much from our outer space Chaplain as he will learn from us, as he takes an Earth wife – quite literally, from the audience – and also teaches us (as well as – bizarrely – animated Cameron, Putin and Merkel) to make bubbles, not war. The prevalence at this year’s Fringe of single actor shows choosing to make use of their audiences as cast members (Every Brilliant Thing, The Eulogy of Toby Peach, Charolais, The Red Chair) perhaps embodies frustration with the irrevocable resistance of our age to listen or to learn; more scripts choose to reach out directly and shake their audiences to get their message across, in hyper-Brechtian spirit. So it is that Raudaskoski’s outsider entrusts the telephone that teaches him about Earth to an audience member, and has implicit off-stage intercourse with his wife from row three, leading to the birth of an Earth version of himself. This is your world, and this is what it’s doing to you, his intimacy says.

From the moment that he mirrors his filmed self to his immaculately timed acts of becoming that filmed self, Raudaskoski is in complete control of the technological displays that operate around him. Pivotally, the films breathe life into his performance and the tone of the piece itself, rather than stifling it, and Raudaskoski maintains that tone through a hypnotic, skittish physicality. There’s no real plot, more a succession of encounters that get more and more surreal and inverted as they go, and different tricks and quirks come with each phase. The script is clunky and bloated in places and slips out of itself too easily towards the end, but the imagination and conception of the work is so astounding and so full of character that the irregular shaping simply impels the charm.

It’s as silly as it is serious, at once outlandish and grounded, sad and warming. It’s extraordinarily visceral and sensory, in the same way that, when watching the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, it feels as if you’re actually touching and experiencing image. An experimental art project that doesn’t feel like a chore to consume is an uncommon thing, but Raudaskoski’s vision is an entire, otherworldly delight.

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