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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me on Twitter at MarkFFisher, WriteAboutTheat and LimelightXTC I am a freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers. I am also editor of The XTC Bumper Book of Fun for Boys and Girls: A Limelight Anthology. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide.
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Monday, February 08, 2010

Wall of Death, theatre review

Published in The Guardian

Wall of Death: A Way of Life

SECC, Glasgow
4 out of 5

In April, the National Theatre of ­Scotland is staging Peter Pan. If that production is half as ­weightless as the Ken Fox Troupe riding the Wall of Death, it will be breathtaking. ­Harnessing the properties of ­centrifugal force, this ­family of old-school ­entertainers ride their low-slung Indian motorcycles around a vertiginous drum with heart-stopping panache. You will believe a boy can fly.

When they tell you to keep your ­fingers from the edge as you peer into their cylinder down a sheer six-metre wall, you assume it is all part of the end-of-the-pier patter. You can imagine these grungy "vertical riders" as part of the creepy funfair in Something Wicked This Way Comes, and you expect a bit of showbiz hyperbole.

But it is nothing of the kind. In turn, the four riders rev their engines, circle the wall and mock the laws of gravity as they breeze past our noses with a combination of reckless abandon and choreographic grace. This is a show not to be missed.

The event, however, has its ­questions. We all know the NTS is a theatre without walls, but in this ­collaboration with the artist Stephen Skrynka, it is also theatre without actors or playwrights. Despite her credit, Vicky Featherstone is not even a ­director in the usual sense.

This break with convention is part of what makes Wall of Death so ­exciting. If you wanted to get ­theoretical, you could place it in the tradition of the ­Grassmarket Project and Rimini ­Protokoll – companies that put real ­people on stage – but it is enough that the Ken Fox Troupe are just great at what they do.

The production is part of a strand of genre-defying NTS work that includes the rural art installations of Half Life and the country-and-western storytelling of Long Gone Lonesome. The question is not whether this is legitimate ­territory for a theatre company so much as whether the NTS is making the most of the opportunity.

Some aspects of Wall of Death are underdeveloped, as was the case with Long Gone Lonesome. Skrynka, rechristened "Skidmark Steve" for his efforts in learning to ride the Wall of Death, is an endearing but low-key host and, despite his diverting zoetrope sideshow and big-screen interviews, it is the Ken Fox Troupe who are the main event. That event is unquestionably thrilling, but it could have been more exhilarating still with a less earth-bound presentation.

Until Friday. Box office: 0844 395 4000. Then touring.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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