A woman lies naked on a vast stage. She flexes and writhes, muscles stressed under the light. The woman staggers to her feet, an elk calf dazed and astonished by the world. Around her, clothed individuals start to murmur and forcibly dress her in their uniform. This is Liberation, dubbed the “messiest show on the Fringe”. Paint is flung, smeared, in an emancipating display of colour.
The performers show an enormous level of trust and ease with one another. Directors Luke Clarke and Anthony Stephen Springall, co-founders of The Alchemist Theatre Company, present an equally visceral and sensual spectacle, the cast’s vulnerability highlighted by their nakedness. Often they’re all nude, running and holding each other. This isn’t a gimmick though; the stark contrast of the naked human form against its clothed counterpart is crucial to the production. Freedom and cultural habituation are considered here with live music, movement, colour and the body.
Narration taken verbatim from Alan Watts’ lectures grounds the performance in philosophy. It does, however, feel heavy handed, as though the message is being repeated for those who didn’t understand. Nevertheless, the message sinks in. In a variety of situations, Liberation shows individuals and communities oppressed by conditioning which eradicates their autonomy. The structure is relatively erratic but overall the piece flows well. A family sit at a table, evenly painting spots onto their skin, until one of them bends the rules and order is rejected entirely.
The final scenes are touching. A couple dances alone onstage, each relying on the other for support. They are passionate and lyrical and their performance extraordinarily intimate. As the cast of Liberation take their bows, the musicians, hidden behind a screen for the duration of the performance, step out onto the stage naked. The play may be over but the performance certainly isn’t. Liberation is hopeful, showing emancipation and rebellion in the human form.
Liberation is playing at Zoo Southside until 19 August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. For more information, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.