Shows exploring issues of censorship are not hard to come by at the Fringe, but Walking the Tightrope offers an interesting and wholly satisfying approach to the theme. Formed in response to three high-profile and controversial cancellations last summer, Walking the Tightrope is a timely reminder of the issues of ‘dirty’ funding, protest and censorship. It won’t be for everyone, and those who see it will probably either love it or hate it. Undoubtedly though, they will talk about it…and I suspect that’s probably the aim of its makers.
The eight theatrical shorts offer an array of timely insights, some more startling than others. A cast of four very talented actors revolves seamlessly between plays, characters and accents. Neil LaBute’s Exhibit A (acted wonderfully by Syrus Lowe and Melissa Woodbridge) proved the most shocking of the pieces. One audience member dismissed it in the post-show panel discussion as a ‘cheap stunt’; I don’t wholly disagree with her, and while I did appreciate the heightened suspense of the piece, I didn’t enjoy it or gain much from it intellectually.
Tim Fountain’s rather sarcastic Beyond the Fringe was a more successful offering that poked fun at the leftist, Guardian-subscribing Fringe-goer. By the end of it, I wasn’t entirely sure what side I was on, and it’s stood out as a highlight that I’m still mulling over. On the whole, all eight contributions were objectively strong pieces of theatre.
The panel discussion is well worth staying for, although I’m not sure it was led as effectively as it could have been on the date that I attended. It seemed slightly disorganised and scrappy, and some very interesting questions weren’t explored in the depth I thought they deserved. Nevertheless, it it certainly an event that provoked great conversation – with two of the wonderful panellists vehemently disagreeing with each other, and many audience members weighing in with their own opinions on top of that. I found it a satisfying ending to ninety minutes, and in fact, I wish more shows and exhibitions had the same idea.
Theatre conceived in the heat of controversial events is always going to divide its audience, in a way that other shows do not. Yet regardless of what you think about the subject matter, Walking the Tightrope certainly keeps you engaged from start to finish, and even beyond. It offers a two-way dialogue between the industry and theatregoers – one that manages not to fall into the trap of patronising its viewers like so many shows of a similar theme do. Overall, it’s a riveting and intelligent way to spend part of your afternoon.