Flâneurs isn’t a so much a show as a reaction. Months ago, Jenna Watt’s friend Jeremy was attacked. This piece of performance art aims to reverse the bystander effect, because the most shocking element of the event was not so much that he was attacked, but that there were witnesses and nobody tried to help.
A flâneur is someone who walks the city in order to explore it. Watt admits she wouldn’t have tried to help either because she’d have been scared. Watt wants to provoke a reaction with this show and reclaim those areas which we’re frightened to walk in, that we shouldn’t be frightened to walk in because they’re a part of the city we belong to. The content of the show itself doesn’t provoke an emotional response from me, I must admit, but rather it confronts us with a truth about how we live our day to day lives.
Flâneurs has great ideas behind it but as a piece of performance art, it doesn’t feel incredibly creative. Watt relies upon a projector to illustrate what she tells us, and the cut-out people and giraffe don’t contribute anything. Whilst playing an audio clip relating the attack, Watt slowly drips red droplets onto the projector and this is all just too unreal to leave an impact. It is the audio clips which have the greatest effect, exactly because they aren’t performing but speaking the truth.
Watt’s most elaborate element of the show is her swing. The image does echo the lost innocence of childhood, when the world was your playground, and apparently Watt knew every neighbour on her street and could happily walk in and out of their houses. But like everything else in Flâneurs, there isn’t something consistently linking her various visual images, and as a production is jumpy and tacked on.
Watt seems to underestimate her greatest asset next to the interviews: herself. Watt’s delivery of the story and her opinions are earnestly told. She is as genuine as the case she puts before us and this leads an audience to be willing to listen to her, ironically without the art element of the performance.
Flâneurs is an ambitious show, proposing something of a movement around which Watt builds a good case, if not a good show. It’s a brilliant idea and shows something good can be born of something bad, but doesn’t have the impact that it could. Flâneurs rests upon appealing to the audience’s humanity – it’s very real whether you represent your friend with a giraffe or not, and barely toes the line between fiction and reality. The problem is this ambiguity, so my reaction is more ambiguous than reactionary.
** – 2/5 stars
Flâneurs plays at Summerhall until 26 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.