When I was little, around three or four years old, I went through a phase where I watched The Wizard of Oz everyday. I adored everything about that film. I wanted to grow up to be that brave, stubborn girl who loves animals, with a group of devoted friends making sure she was always safe whilst embarking on her next wonderful adventure in a foreign land.
Hell, I still want to be her now. But as an adult, I know that there is no Oz to escape to, no good witch looking over you and foreign lands are often closed and unwelcoming. And I know too well that tornadoes can destroy the very foundations of everything you know, leaving you with nothing.
I was blindsided by one of these natural disasters about a week before the end of the Fringe. A personal, silent storm ripped my life apart when my nearly-eight-year-old relationship crumbled within a burst of exhausted, late-night text messages. But I still had work to do in that colourful, foreign land of leaflets, drag queens and the unrelenting heartbeat of watch/write. watch/write. watch/write.
So I refused to emotionally acknowledge this tragedy. I tucked it in some corner of my brain to confront later, when I inevitably would have to return to the one-bedroom flat we share. The shows kept coming, and the writing piled up, and I smiled at friends. We made small talk about the shows we’ve seen, the weather and how tired we were.
One show did manage to break through the mask of normalcy I presented to the fringe, though. I had missed it last year and since then tentatively made friends with the show’s producer, so I promised to see it. I wanted to, but knowing I was hovering on a knife edge of totally falling apart, I was aware that this show could shatter my facade of, ‘I’m, fine, thanks. Just tired.’ Or, I could rediscover the inner Dorothy that I’d largely neglected for all these years.
FK Alexander’s (I Could Go on Singing) Over the Rainbow follows a simple structure. Accompanied by noise band Okishima Island Tourist Association, Alexander ritualistically prepares to perform in full view, then walks to an X on the floor where an audience member stands. She takes their hand, and sings to the last recording of Judy Garland singing ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, made a few months before her death. The song finishes with a kiss on the cheek, and Alexander resets. The next person takes their place on the X.
This repeats for as long as the performance is allocated. Most run for an hour, but a few are durational. Audience members can come and go as they please, and earplugs are provided – the electronic noise music combined with strobe lights and intense colours is an overwhelming sensory experience, and breaks are needed.
Watching other audience members take their place on the gaffa taped X and their reactions to Alexander’s singing to them is engaging in and of itself. Each person transitions from audience member to improvisational performer; some laugh, others cry, still more perch on other points of the emotional spectrum. It’s in these moments my present tragedy emerges from its hiding place. I weep for my life that was and that which will cease to be.
I don’t know how I’ll react when I finally take my turn with Alexander. I’m scared to find out. But rather than cry, I find a new pal. Her song reassures me that things will get better, and her ferocious confidence inspires hope. This is a song of fighting, not mourning. We might not find our Oz, but we’d better not give up looking for it.
(I Could Go on Singing) Over the Rainbow runs through 27 August.
The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.