Roadkill: Looking at life afresh
There's a pattern to seeing shows at Edinburgh that is reminiscent of the military marching beat: miss, miss, miss, hit, miss.
A rookie visitor will try to improve his or her success rate by casually asking other attendees if they can recommend a show. This is a mistake that will lead to the Fringe's three stages of mourning: excitement, frustration and humiliation.
It goes like this:
Rookie [to a die-hard festival goer sitting on the wall outside the Pleasance Dome reading a copy of The List]: Hi there. Sorry to bother you, but you look like you know your way around these parts. Can you recommend a show?
Old Hand [cool, but delighted to be asked]: Sure. You really should go see Joe Bloggs. He's incredible - it's the best show I've seen in years. Amazing.
Rookie: Really? Fantastic. Which venue is he playing?
Old Hand: The Udderbelly, I think. No, no, wait a minute - he's at the Pleasance.
Rookie [pleased to be given the chance to show some festival knowledge]: Which one?
Old Hand: Courtyard.
Rookie [grateful and excited]: Fabulous, thanks - I'll pop down there right now and get a ticket.
Old Hand: I wouldn't bother - it's sold out.
At this point the Old Hand gives a smug but sympathetic shrug and wanders off with a final twist of the knife: "but he really is very good; truly exceptional". The Rookie walks away dejected and won't learn that this question will always elicit the same "...but it's sold out" answer until he or she has repeated the experience at least five times.
Of course, once you've cottoned on you very quickly have the pleasure of playing the game yourself. I did this morning.
I was at a breakfast hosted by a theatre company for some of its supporters. A convivial and informed bunch, they were discussing the merits of the shows they had been to see before the toast had popped up. The "misses" were dealt with first. I waited patiently. Then talk turned to shows they were due to see. I sipped my coffee. And then, as I spooned the last of my Frosties into my mouth, came the question, "So, tell me Will: have you seen any shows you'd recommend?"
"Oh yes," I said. "Roadkill is absolutely amazing - harrowing but superb."
And it is superb and honestly the best thing I have seen at the Fringe, which surprised me as it is a site-specific piece that used video technology - neither of which I generally find to be particularly successful additions to the theatrical experience.
But for this story - a young Nigerian girl is brought to Edinburgh by her "Auntie" under false pretences and is entrapped in a world of hideous prostitution - both the location and video accompaniment worked perfectly. If the purpose of the arts is to make us look at life afresh, to provoke our intellects, to challenge our preconceptions and to comment on our lives, then this work succeeds magnificently.
As with the best theatre, Roadkill transports you - literally - to another place and takes you on a narrative that is moving and profound. The 16-or-so fellow audience members (numbers are limited due to the locations in which the action takes place) who were with me all emerged knowing they had seen and experienced something beyond the usual.
We had witnessed a story told so directly, so brutally and so well that, for a while at least, the world seemed a different place. And then this morning I was flicking through the papers and saw this story on page 4 of the Guardian. Under normal circumstances I suspect I would have clocked it and moved on without bothering to read the whole piece.
Not now: I read every single word, took in the stats, mulled over the arguments and was appalled. And then I read Ed Pilkington on the same subject in the Guardian's G2 section.
The arts have a reputation for frivolity and otherworldliness; those who inhabit them are brushed aside as luvvies, not serious people. That's wrong. And if you don't believe me, go and see Roadkill.
Except of course, it is sold out.