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Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

  Hippo World Guest Book
Pleasance, Edinburgh

Andrew Haydon
posted 28 August 2007

The concept for Chris Goode’s new show is disarmingly simple. Hippo World is a real website. It had an online guest book in which visitors could leave comments. In Hippo World Guest Book Chris Goode reads out a selection of the things which were written, starting with the first post and ending with the last, and giving a good taste of those in between. The result is quite simply astonishing.

The material ranges from the sweet to the outright abusive, through a good deal of the hilariously baffling. A narrative emerges, charting the life of the guest book from its utopian beginnings as a place where like-minded fans of the hippopotamus leave appreciative notes thanking the site’s mysterious creator. It moves through a period where dissenting voices crop up to abuse hippos, other guest book signatories, and each other, until it reaches a point where the site appears to have been abandoned entirely by humans and the only postings are by spambots advertising online gambling sites, and blank postings with no name.

As a performer, Goode is both a charming stage presence and an expert interpreter of these silent writings, at once offering characterisations of the anonymous authors, and an implicit commentary on their outpourings. From the material, he manages to extract long stretches of jaw-achingly funny material and moments of strangely haunting poetry, while his honouring the internet convention of using capitalisation to convey shouting by ACTUALLY SHOUTING QUITE OFTEN is a masterstroke. Conversely, a section close to the end, accompanied by some of the haunting music which is played intermittently throughout the show, along with subtly undulating lighting states, becomes a Prynne-like modernist poem.

How much one gets out of the piece depends entirely on how hard one looks at it. On a superficial level there is plenty of fun to be had just marvelling at the gibberish people feel compelled to write on the internet. On a slightly deeper level the piece suggests a melancholic delineation of inevitable collapse and entropy. Beyond this, at root, there is something intangibly beautiful and sad which lingers for far longer. This work both demands and generously rewards proper attention. Hippo World Guest Book is essential viewing.


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