Summerhall – Demonstration Room
Concerned Others takes place in the Demonstration Room at Summerhall; an intimate space for a small audience. The room contributes a sense of clinical dissection, as we sit in a raked curve of wooden seats looking down: an audience of students about to be taught something important. And taught we are, in a meticulously crafted piece of art that offers enlightening insight into some dark and disturbing truths.
This is a multi-layered piece, performed by Alex Bird around a tabletop, on screen, in sound, in person and through close-up streamed cinematography. It exposes Scotland’s unfortunate position as the country with the highest incidence of drug and alcohol abuse in Europe, giving voice to those on the periphery of the issue who are so bitterly impacted by it.
At the beginning of the show, Bird draws a series of running figures, which are overlaid and digitally animated to create a flickbook effect, bringing the figure to life. We then hear verbatim accounts from people who have been affected by this curse – from medical professionals to family – and they reveal stories of grief, anguish and shame alongside the causes of addiction. Jim Harbourne’s haunting soundtrack simultaneously and resolutely guides us through multiple difficult scenarios.
The documentary element is complemented by evocative visuals, offering alternative perspectives on addiction. As the voices play, a close-up camera tracks through models of human habitats, depicting the city and rooms where it all takes place. There are tiny static figures within the space, who we are made to examine closely in captured poses. Whilst they are immobile, the audience is activated, considering the world of drug abuse from new angles and focussing intensely on the stories of individual people. The images are further extended to screens hanging above the table and to masks, manipulated to reveal the human face of the problem, so we see things differently again.
The content of the play is deeply moving, giving insight into the wider social and emotional impact of drug abuse. In a quiet yet powerful delivery, it challenges moral assumptions, stigmas and prejudices that exacerbate the crisis by repressing knowledge of it. It discloses how society distances itself from the crisis and pushes it under the carpet. It speaks of compassion fatigue amongst those desperately trying to help in an overwhelming situation.
As a theatrical performance, Concerned Others has so much more impact than a purely filmed documentary might have. Life, and indeed the quality of life of the addicts and those in contact with them, is at the centre of this issue, and live performance gives this vivid representation and immediacy. It’s a subtle but important artistic choice, to be applauded.
The addicts’ lives we see in these figures are locked in place, limited and made static by dependency; perhaps merely existing. But with public discussion and help this can be changed. We’re invited to make use of links to additional information that offers support, and to engage with the subject actively, owning these new perspectives. The show concludes with the animated man no longer on the page, no longer defined by limitation, but before us, running on a treadmill until he is gasping for breath, his chest pounding with life.
This is a production you can’t just walk away from: you will think about its revelations for a long time afterwards.
Devised by: Alex Bird
Composed by: Jim Harbourne
AV Design by: Lewis Den Hertog
Lighting Design by: Andrew Gannon
Produced by: Arran Howie, Tortoise in a Nutshell
Concerned Others played as part of EdFringe 2023.