Every Word Was Once an Animal, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

by Laura Kressly

Belgian company Ontroerend Goed are fringe regulars who reliably provide innovative, provocative work that makes a refreshing change from British theatre and performance paradigms. This show is no exception. Layers of metatheatricality, direct address and a spirit of playfulness are used to consider how a performance is made, the truth and lies in storytelling, and language as a vehicle for meaning. Tight dramaturgy and constant surprise result in a consistently compelling production.

Each member of the ensemble cast introduce themselves one at a time, and explain how their part of the show functions in relation to the others. They also clearly describe what is coming next, before stating what they’re saying may or may not be true. This formula is loosely adapted and used throughout the piece, with each performer taking turn to do their bit. The cumulative effect is one of delightful confusion. What is true and what isn’t? Who is who? Can we trust them? They also toy with time by doubling back on themselves and jumping to the future, which add to the surprise through what they reveal about how everyone fits together. This narrative is ultimately quite delightful in how it keeps the audience on the back foot and toys with expectations in quite a literal way.

It’s wonderful to see a show’s dramaturgical structure and plot points deconstructed in such a forthright way. There’s both an accessibility and gentle teasing in that people who haven’t thought about story construction learn some fundamentals, and those who are more informed have our knowledge questioned. It’s smart, fun and a great representation of continental theatre.

Every Word Was Once an Animal runs through 28 August.

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