Edgar & Me

Sun 20th – Mon 28th August 2017

reviews

Jacob Pagano

at 14:32 on 24th Aug 2017

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‘Edgar and Me’ is one of the most poignant, memorable, and insightful performances I have seen in years. Its premise is simple: six years ago, director and writer Charlotte began a correspondence with Edgar, who is sentenced to life in prison and who, after a fight with the guards, is sentenced to death. The show consists of Charlotte reading their correspondeces, passing out photos of Edgar, and panning back and forth between the present moment—in which, for example, she asks the audience to compose questions for her next letter—and past moments, in which Charlotte “acts” out tear and laughter-evoking memories of their correspondence.

One reason that the show proves such a success is the pure quality of writing in Charlotte’s and Edgar’s letters. First, they are incredibly informative, and within twenty minutes we the audience know a great deal about Edgar’s childhood, his terrifying commute between the Texas-Mexico border, and his efforts to paint whilst in prison. As we listen, we are given photos of his spiritual and evocative paintings.

Beyond these details, the letters are breathtakingly lyrical. In one, Charlotte reads Edgar’s description of what “true silence” feels like. As she reads, Charlotte reenacts her experience when she first received the letter, and muses on the “lambs running outside” her window. The panning between letter-reading and acting, and between the past moment and the present on stage, creates an incredible sense of temporal flexibility, and we feel that the letters, for a brief moment, are outwitting the march of time.

‘Edgar and Me’ also engages the audience in a genuinely effective way. We are asked to read aloud Charlotte and Edgar’s answers to questions such as “What’s your worst memory?” More than any production I’ve seen, Edgar and Me places its audience amidst an incredibly profound and long-term relationship, and miraculously enables us to feel like we form a small part of it.

Charlotte concludes the show by coming to terms with Edgar’s eventual death. “One day I'll know it'll be his date...a few members of his family will be outnumbered by journalists...And I'll never hear from him again. No more artwork, no more poetry." The intensity and sorrow brought me to a momentary paralysis. But Charlotte does not let us slip into depression. Rather, pen in hand, she asks the audience to compose questions for Edgar. It is her pen, if anything, that can save us.

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Amaris Proctor

at 12:53 on 27th Aug 2017

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This autobiographical performance about a Sheffield woman’s pen pal relationship with a man on death row has broad brush strokes that blunt its force. Charlotte Blackburn attempts to come to grips with the American judicial’s system abhorrent practice of murdering criminals, and does so in a passionately personal way that deserves respect. However, the naivety with which she executes the narrative makes for problematic viewing.

A rich profusion of thorny problems plague the production. One issue with the piece is that, while Edgar’s story is compelling, filtering it through the litter of quotidian details about her life doesn’t quite result in a scintillating show. Her intention to exhibit beauty in the ordinariness of life, which she seems to imply is what flavours a limited life in prison, isn’t rendered with as much skill as one might like. Through her rough treatment of the Edgar’s tale of crime and punishment, she smooths away many of its more stimulating complexities. You have to wonder if the way she seems to glide over the actualities of his crimes, as if they were almost incidental, is indicative of a rose-coloured tint clouding her vision. That’s not to say any crime justifies the death penalty. Of course, killing a human soul in any context is a heinous offence against humanity. But it’s also lazy and misguided to reduce Edgar singly to the role of a gentle artist and poet, just as it is to label him a violent criminal, because the reality is far more serpentine.

However, my cynicism is tempered by a keen awareness that at its bare bones, this piece has the potential to pack a real emotional punch. Although it is brought to the stage with an uneven coarseness, the practice of translating a documentary-styled narrative into a piece of theatre can be extremely fruitful. The most memorable element of the play was the audience participation, which Blackburn incorporated with finesse. At no point did you feel put on the spot, as she worked hard to foster an open atmosphere. It felt like an incredible (if a little uncomfortable) honour and privilege to read Edgar’s responses to questions and to touch pictures, which were in every sense unframed, of the tattooed criminal. In this way she did close the seemingly infinite gap between us and this far-off doomed man, a distance which is frequently inflated by the desensitising media spectacle surrounding the death penalty.

Ultimately, this is an imperfect production. Yet, I can’t pretend it didn’t make an impression on me. It leaves you wondering if you too should reach across the void, to find a prison pen pal of your very own.

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