With so much of so little consequence at the Fringe, FUEL offer a more reflexive attempt at something insubstantial. If that seems uncharacteristic of the independent producing house – their other show is the Belarus Free Theatre – the quality remains reassuringly reliable.
Dotted around the Botanic Gardens, tucked under willow trees or engulfed by rhododendra, are five inauspicious garden sheds. A single journey stops off at three sheds, each of which houses an artist or company, commissioned to respond to the title they share, The Simple Things in Life. The results, which vary in form and tone, are all carefree and delightful: they cut the brain loose, sit you back and allow themselves to be soaked in. Each has interpreted the brief from a different angle. The London Snorkelling Team, a music and animation combo, offer a deliriously goofy gig, while Frauke Requardt and Makiko Aoyama present the pleasure of dance for dance’s sake. Lewis Gibson, my favourite half-hour thus far this Fringe, goes beyond show and tell, instead treating us to a carefully constructed experience of blissful empty-headedness.
First up – or to conclude, depending on your route – is the London Snorkelling Team’s 2011 Annual Science Demonstration and Space Fete, which subverts high science with an influx of wackiness. The particle accelerator we’re here to view, for example, is being used to cause a meat collision by blasting a pig at a cow. The result, and we’ll meet in two hours, naked, to enjoy it, is a meat shower. Jaunty and round-the-twist, this is infectiously funny stuff, smartly stupid throughout. Here, Einstein knocks out his theory of relativity after a day of continual mishaps and there’s Hawkings versus Dawkins over whether Mr T could take Rocky.
Makiko’s Shed is lined with mirrors, like a makeshift infinity triangle. Red velvet covers the walls and six bulbs glow to create a warming environment with an aftertaste of seediness. Aoyama, with the cheek to cheek grin of Edith Nesbit’s Psammead, dances in a corner, multiplied until kaleidoscopic. While the choreography loosely suggests the pleasure of cutting off self-consciousness, the real joy comes from letting your eyes fuzz over and appreciating the simple kinaesthetics.
Finally comes the lovely escapism of Lewis Gibson’s low-key members’ club, a chance to snip the spinal column and drift into an absent-minded haze. Gibson’s shed is a immersion chamber of sorts. It manages to create a private bubble in a public moment.
We wear ear-defender headphones, through which we initially hear Ella Fitzgerald hymning about solitude and later the live sounds inside the shed, including Gibson’s instructions. It all sounds distant, quilted and unreal. Looking through viewfinders, glowing sepia soft against the light, we notice sound and image don’t sync. Gibson charges our glasses with port or elderflower cordial and hands us a book. Reading alone, the sleepy pace dictated by a voice in our ear, familiar stories intermingle; the narrative gives up. Gradually the book gives up to, molting words before fading to grey, then white.
It takes half an hour, but effects last all day. Gibson has slowed us down, stopped us charging heedlessly to wherever we need to get to, but the skill comes in the way it sneaks up on us, softly, softly. By the time you realise what he’s playing at, it’s too late, you’re away, deep in blissful simplicity.