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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, October 17, 2011

The Salon Project, theatre review

Published in the Guardian

IS it a fancy-dress party? An elaborate cabaret? A rerun of The Good Old Days? An esoteric piece of durational art? It's impossible to compartmentalise Stewart Laing's three-hour evening of immersive theatre - if you can call it theatre. Easier to say it is extraordinary, intellectually provocative and tremendously good fun.

For the participant, The Salon Project begins several weeks before the event when you have to submit your neck, waist and leg measurements. By the time you get to the Traverse, there's a costume for you ready to be fitted by a professional wardrobe supervisor.

The first half-hour is a kind of ritualistic performance as the men get kitted out in waistcoats, tailcoats and bow ties, and the women put on trailing gowns, necklaces and fascinators. Makeup artists whiten faces and darken eyebrows for that sepia look.

Duly transformed in the garb of the 19th-century Parisian salon, we enter a large white room with chandeliers, a grand piano and three gramophone players on which Donna Rutherford will perform the Victorian equivalent of a DJ set. Before that, we're left to make polite conversation with our fellow guests.

Already something odd is happening: we are not in character, but the stiff formality of the dress seems to engender a higher-minded level of chit-chat. Someone mentions the salons he's been reading about in Proust; an educationalist tells me how much she hates the education system; and I have a brief conversation with Laing himself on the nature of decadence. It is this kind of exchange of ideas the director is aiming to encourage, using the costumes to evoke a spirit of inquiry.

It is also to build a commentary on the nature of time. Just as Rutherford's 78rmp DJ set straddles the centuries, so a series of interventions play with the concept of past, present and future. Several of the naked figures in a tableau vivant are watching the future played out in 2001: A Space Odyssey; Graham Leicester, director of the International Futures Forum, gives a talk on the inert past and existential present; and, as our voices build to an amplified cacophony, a video imagines a cataclysmic future for the very room we are in.

After such heady pursuits, returning to the sloppy informality of your 21st-century clothes is like putting on the wardrobe of a more trivial age.

© Mark Fisher, 2011 (Pic: Tommy Ga-Ken Wan)

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