Staging Wittgenstein

Wed 2nd – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Jacob Pagano

at 14:04 on 21st Aug 2017

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'Staging Wittgenstein' takes the philosophical ideas of one of the twentieth centuries most important philosophers and offers a show at once amusing and informative. It focuses on Wittgenstein’s theory that language gains meaning through its “form of life” by placing its two actors in oversized balloons, which represent “speech bubbles.” The performers, played by actresses Annie Hägg and Roxanna Kadyrova, then receive a series of instructions on how to act, and we encounter musing on whether “instructions” can ever convey their intent. After this opening bit, Hägg and Kadyrova are left to bounce around and play in their balloons, and about midway through the show, they cease speaking English and explore communication through a series of invented noises and gestures.

The audience is invited to ask the questions that vexed Wittgenstein: “Can we speak to one another without established conventions? “ “Is language a form of play?” The show didn’t answer them, but, like its title suggests, “Staged them,” taking Wittgenstein’s text as a guiding script. The production imbued “language game” with tangible meaning, and entertained the audience with jocularity while demonstrating philosophical conundrums.

Director and writer Blair Simmons is a strong choreographer, and some of the most engaging parts of the show came when the performers deftly maneuver into these latex contraptions. The show’s absurdist qualities also favorably greets the eye, and its own Salvador Dali-like scenes of emergent heads and limbs is visually engaging,

What I liked most about the show was the way it addressed some of the existential questions underlying Wittgenstein’s philosophical inquiries. Throughout, the balloons frequently popped (creating, at times, a skittish and ears-closed audience), and at one point Hägg reflects on the dangers of “blowing oneself up too much.” If the balloons do in fact represent speech bubbles, we are left wondering about how language might actually stifle, rather than enable, meaning creation.

'Staging Wittgenstein' didn’t reach a climactic moment but, like a game itself, came to a natural closing point. The mood was one of amusement and light-heartedness, yet I also immediately heard conversations in which audience members were asking “What did the balloons mean?” and, “Do we exist in them naturally?” For a philosopher for whom questions were one of the few ways to approach meaning, the production would have seemed quite a good representation of our eternal game.

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Darcy Rollins

at 17:01 on 21st Aug 2017

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On the way to my seat, I walk past a stage brimming with white balloons and an actress saying "Sit at the front if you're brave." From this moment, the atmosphere is set and I know 'Staging Wittgenstein' is going to be an odd experience.

The performance involves one slightly frustrated teacher and two women who climb into latex balloons, seemingly instructed. I say seemingly because the language used is strange, and while containing some words that give clue to what is being said, is mostly indecipherable. Yet, the instructor gesticulates, speaks in a certain tone of voice and essentially emulates an authority figure and the 2 balloon dwellers, mostly, follow her orders. Aware of the fact Wittgenstein is the name of a German philosopher, and not much else, I set the cogs turning in my brain and look for the philosophy underneath the surreal balloons. I conclude that a point is being made about language being unnecessary for communication and am assured by my fellow, more knowledgable, reviewer after the show, that I am somewhat correct.

That such a point was made communicable by 3 women and 2 giant balloons is a testament to the ingenuity of the company. However, going to this production in search of philosophy is a mistake. The true joy of this performance comes from the playful relationship between the 2 balloon dwellers, Annie Hägg and Roxanna Kadyrova, as they communicate nonsensically and bounce around. Hägg and Kadyrova brim with energy, which I could see was infectious for the audience; throughout the performance there were chuckles and I saw many smiles surrounding me. In an embodiment of Wittgenstein’s language is unnecessary point, they both manage to communicate to each other and the audience is able to understand that they are successfully communicating, without knowing what actually was communicated. None of this particularly thrilled me but this isn’t the show for that. The sheer sight of people climbing inside of balloons, then proceeding to bounce around, is amusing and a little hynoptic. There is also something joyful to it and could be the perfect cure if you’ve seen a few many dark monologues, as is the Fringe way.

Don’t go expecting to particularly understand what is happening, unless you truly try to find ‘the message’ as I did. It's not for the uninitiated who want to become initiated. But perhaps I set my expectations too high. If you're looking for something odd, playful and amusing, it's exactly what you want.

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