A horizontal bar of light, a table with a chair and a coffee mug are the only things Thaddeus Phillips has to work with in his remarkable journey across borders – 17 borders in fact, each explored with a humorous intensity and seemingly endless energy. Phillips has created a technical masterpiece.
Phillips is a theatre designer, and it is evident this is where his strengths lie. The bar becomes a plane light, the table a boat; the small space is always made atmospheric and the props always used in a way that is innovative. Starting off his travels with a chatty conversation, Phillips is a natural performer and his apparent ease throughout the piece makes it easy to watch.
Travelling from Italy to Croatia, being turned away from Indonesia, a humorous anecdote from Jordan, a stamp-free ticket to Cuba (or was it Mexico?) and a hallucinogenic tryst in the Amazonian rainforest – Phillips’s passport has seen a lot. The piece explores the absurdity of our passport and an artificial border-obsessed world, but does so with a kind of nonchalant freedom rather than with haunting urgency. Meanwhile, Phillips’s bilingual tongue twisters loose their initial impact and occasionally become tiresome. A clever piece, 17 Border Crossings is impressive in its technical artistry, but its long-term impact is not as haunting as it is fun.
A dynamic performer, Phillips has thought up arguably the world’s best bedtime story. Fast-paced, he tells us about this and that and this again, all wrapped up in an exciting theatre display to create a performance of immense talent. Ultimately, however, his show stays on the safe side of politics, its humour divulges relatively easily into cultural stereotypes, and even the set-up – whilst genius – is nothing outside the box. Rather, Phillips has mastered the box with breathtaking supremacy. It’s a heavy feat, but one that places his show in the ‘safe’ zone and prevents it from breaking boundaries in a way that is truly breathtaking.
17 Border Crossings is playing until 30 August at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For tickets and more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.