[author-post-rating] (4/5 Stars)
When was the last time a piece of theatre actively challenged your political beliefs? When did a performance make you rebel against a system and to stand up against democracy? I imagine it’s unlikely to be that often, if at all. Ontroerend Goed is no stranger to the UK now, its work continually challenges and provokes the audiences to the point that the very act of buying a ticket is to propel yourself into contract which gives the company the authority to challenge you. Fight Night, the latest piece from the Flemish company, in collaboration with the Australian The Border Project, is no different. Moving away from teenage rioting and personal confrontation, the Belgian-based company is now wanting to challenge your political beliefs.
Upon entering the theatre, audiences are given an electronic voting device with the host, Angelo Tijssens, instructing the audience on how to use it throughout the performance. Fight Night sets up the actors as candidates to win the audience’s vote. At first we’re introduced to the voting system through simple questions that establish the audience demographic: age, sex, martial status and monthly income. This alone is provocative with the mixed demographics, and in my performance a large middle-class married audience. Next we’re introduced to the actors, our candidates for the evening. Dressed in fighter’s robes we vote purely upon the little we can see of them. A winner is declared and we hear their voice, a single one-line that introduces them to the audience. From here, a series of rounds are played in which actors attempt to win the audience’s vote through their declarations and speeches, and we vote accordingly. The loser of each round leaves the stage, not to return.
The interactivity between the audience (we’re told at the beginning of the show that the audience are vital in theatre, but for this performance even more so) and the actors generates a sporting-type fever of activity amongst the audience. Will our desired candidate make it through to the next round, and if not, who do we align ourselves to the most? Each actor appears to take a different stance on subjects that we vote upon, be it racism, religion, the type of voter they naturally appeal to, and answers to situations such as what they’d do in a hostage takeover. With each round we learn more about the candidates, and we vote for the one that appeals. As the voting narrows and more candidates leave the stage, it becomes apparent that the system in which we’re voting is mimicking that of the real democratic voting system we have here. With this in mind, one of the final candidates on the performance I saw attempted to break the system, to rebel from it and force the system to collapse.
This is, for me at least, the moment that Ontroerend Goed’s show moves from being a repetitive voting performance, to something that challenges and provokes our political beliefs. I’ve always had a struggle with my political beliefs, understanding the need to protest, to topple governments, but equally understanding the importance of a system and for voting the right party or individual into power. In Fight Night the choice is eventually removed as the voting becomes narrow to the point of only two choices: vote for one candidate or leave the auditorium in protest.
It may not sound particularly theatrical, and it may not appeal to those driven to narrative-type theatre, but Fight Night challenges you to move from being a spectator to being an activist, to stand up for the right, or to continue to feed a system. Not every theatre company can ignite political passion in me, and it seems in a number of others too. One audience member became frustrated with the system at play and questioned why she had to vote at all, whilst other more conservative individuals happily voted upon each round with little consequence.
Fight Night, like all Ontroerend Goed’s productions leaves many divided, but it can’t be denied that it is a company which continually pushes the ways in which it interacts with with audience, and with this produces challenging work that questions and provokes.
Fight Night is playing at the Traverse Theatre until 25 August. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.