This is no ordinary love story. On the way into Summerhall’s Red Lecture Theatre we are handed a pair of wireless headphones, arousing an anticipation of the auditory experience to come. When it comes it is an extraordinary piece of sound design, but it takes too long to get there and the slow-moving story that precedes it doesn’t always engage.
Inspired by the medical memoir written by Hungarian satirist Frigyes Karinthy, A Journey Round My Skull is a love story about a neurosurgeon, Julia, who falls in love with her patient – a role occupied by the audience. Written for Birmingham-based theatre company Kindle by Nick Walker and Olivia Winteringham (who also performs), it is a story which attempts to dissect our most intimate relationships and examine the complexity of the human brain by exploring the perplexing world of auditory hallucinations.
It starts promisingly, with Julia offering a detailed and often amusing diagnosis which perfectly balances medical terminology and wry humour. Winteringham gives an unruffled performance for the most part, but when she finds herself sitting on the floor surrounded by lamps she finds a teetering vulnerable which elucidates the anguish of her unrequited love. The longer it goes on, though, the more attention begins to wane, with the slow poetics of the writing becoming frustrating where it had once been absorbing.
Until, that is, we are asked to put on our headphones. Iain Armstrong’s sound design, heard through the headphones, transports us from our seats into the operating chair. With stunning auditory clarity we hear every slice of the knife, every murmur of machinery, every whisper around the ear. Though the staging during this moment is beautiful in its abstraction, close your eyes, and let the sound wash over you. For that alone, this is a journey worth making.
A Journey Round My Skull is at Summerhall (Venue 26) until 23 August. For more information and tickets go to the Edinburgh Fringe website.