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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Huxley's Lab, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

Huxley's Lab

Informatics Forum, Edinburgh University
4 out of 5

It is nearly 80 years since Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, and around 60 since eugenics was discredited, so this site-specific collaboration between Grid Iron and Lung Ha's theatre company might easily have seemed old hat. Set in a clinic where test-tube babies are fed alcohol to determine their social status, Huxley's Lab is a dystopian vision of a culture hell-bent on perfection. Yet rather than treading familiar ground, the production by Ben Harrison and Maria Oller is fresh, funny and polemical.

One reason for this is the building itself. The Informatics Forum is an open-plan university block, its glass windows looking on to academics and computer terminals. The air of cool efficiency is in keeping with the lab coats and hollow slogans of the staff at the fictional Huxley Laboratories, who take us on a tour of the building, from lecture room to Soma lounge. This is creepily plausible, but most haunting is the rooftop garden where the lawless "naturals" lead a life of carnivalesque abandon.

Those "naturals" are played by the disabled actors of Lung Ha's, as is the self-hating mastermind, Professor Huxley (Stephen Tait). Their presence – joyful, vulgar, defiant – is a stinging reminder of what happens when eugenics is applied to the splendid variety of real life.

Harrison's script successfully connects a crackpot theory from the 1930s to today. All too convincingly, the staff promote an atomised lifestyle that rejects the messiness of the family in favour of pneumatic bodies and pornographic pleasure. Quoting the infamous Kate Moss line, "Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels," the play brilliantly engages with a deep neurosis in our "fitter, better, more productive" time.

© Mark Fisher 2010

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