Walking The Tightrope

Wed 5th – Mon 31st August 2015


Megan Erwin

at 10:38 on 23rd Aug 2015



Walking the Tightrope accomplishes something incredible - it manages to discuss a topic as timeless as the tension between art and politics and make it seem fresh. In January 2015, the directors, Ed Bartlam and Charlie Wood, asked twelve writers to respond to three high-profile cancellations of cultural events in Summer 2014: the Jewish Film Festival not running at the Tricycle Theatre, the closure of Brett Bailey’s Exhibit B at the Barbican, and an Israeli hip hop musical losing its slot at the Fringe.

The resulting plays cover boycotting, ‘dirty’ funding, offensive art, protest, political correctness, and how the media censors by selecting the voices you hear - but they all have something in common: they are absolutely unmissable. The plays kick off with Mark Ravenhill’s What Are We Going To Do About Harry?, which explores the complexity of the relationship between a conscientious director of a theatre and a self-described “rich, middle class, pushy c*nt” on whom she is dependent for funding. This manages to be extremely funny but also nuanced and poignant; when the latter woman says “while I love the theatre, I can't help feeling that sometimes the theatre doesn’t love me”, not only is it bitingly pertinent, but also one can't help but feel rather sorry for her, pushy and privileged as she is.

This ability to not only portray both sides in an argument or worldview, but to simultaneously pull at heartstrings and have the audience in stitches of laughter whilst doing so, is the hallmark of the whole performance. Beyond The Fringe, which sees tension over the breakfast table between a “soft left”, Guardian-reading, politically correct writer and her rebellious son, seamlessly slipped from the reasonable to the ridiculous, as halfway through an argument on political correctness the son dons a gollywog outfit, apparently the costume for his Fringe show. This serves a greater purpose than mere hilarity however, as it exposes how much the mother’s political activism and ethical living is about her own ego, mortified as she is at the prospect of her son showing her up in so ostentatious a fashion.

The panel discussion following the performances allowed the audience to actively engage with the topics on the table, enacted the ambiguity in the plays between performance and reality, art and ‘real life’, as the audience became part of the discussion. This is a powerful production that will have you talking for hours. Don’t miss it.


Flo Layer

at 11:35 on 23rd Aug 2015



Offstage’s new production Walking the Tightrope, is a vitally important piece of theatre. The show examines the line between art and politics and contemplates issues of freedom of expression, with the perfect balance of sincerity with a sprinkle of humour, which makes it incredibly engaging. The piece features a selection of eight plays, all inspired by three high-profile cancellations of cultural events in the Summer of 2014. It is followed by an enlightening panel discussion with audience contribution.

The brilliance of this programme of short plays is that they highlighted issues that desperately need attention, opening the door to discussion but cleverly avoiding shoving its own political agenda down your throat.

Every single short play felt strong and well-balanced. It was perhaps a relief that the programme started with a lighter (although no less important) analysis of nepotism and financial pressure in the industry, before descending into the grittier (and more graphic) topics. The opening piece, Mark Ravenhill’s What Are We Going to do about Harry?, explores the frequently ignored subject of paid internships and the levels of control in the arts industry exercised by those with funds with a both sincerity and humour.

From here, writers took a dive into the politics of controversial ‘art’, religious tolerance, consent, government funding and race in cultural industries. Neil LaBute’s Exhibit A is perhaps the most immediately memorable, yet as highlighted by one of the panel in the discussion afterwards, this play was in a sense ‘a bit crap’. It has the least subtle approach to a controversial topic and felt almost like a cheap shot in the otherwise subtle and intelligent discussion of important themes. Yet its ending and its incredibly clever manipulation of meta-theatre undoubtedly had us talking for an age afterward. By its end, you are sat questioning your own convictions: what is art? And where do our responsibilities lie as an audience?

The final short, Tickets Are Now On Sale, by Caryl Churchill cleverly pinpointed the lack of discussion of these important topics in every day conversation. Corporate, cultural, and political jargon infiltrated an everyday discussion of the weather, tied together by the question that should be on the tip of every conscientious tongue: “There’s something wrong, what is the matter?”

It was an incredible relief that these intelligent and powerful plays were delivered by an absolutely fantastic cast. Putting Melissa Woodbridge’s slightly shaky South African accent to one side, each member demonstrated outstanding ability to transform from one role to the next with persuasiveness and ease.

Walking the Tightrope is the sort of production that makes you re-evaulate your experience at the Fringe. Sure, you can spend most of your time watching 100 plays performed in half-an-hour backwards, or a Shakespeare play destroyed by a drunken performer, but it’s important to remember the questions that lie at the very heart of this cultural celebration.


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