[author-post-rating] (4/5 stars)
At a time when young people across the country are experiencing agony or ecstasy as a result of something as ultimately trivial as tests and grades, Toot has created a bizarre, surprisingly poignant piece of theatre about the whole concept of success and failure.
Set up like a seminar in a dark room lined with blackboards, Ten Out of Ten feels all at once very original and distinctly influenced by things like Look Around You, in terms of the music as well as something in the way that the performers, address the audience. This inventive three-strong group would like to discuss triumph and disaster, with a view to helping us have more of the former and less of the latter. The result is a semi-interactive show filled with live music, mad exercises and test conditions.
Their illustrative example is Jennifer, whose achievements are all listed on a chart at the side of the room, and range from the badges she gained at Brownies to her 2:1 in Art History. The academic successes obviously have a greater objective worth than, for instance, her short courses in flower arranging and code-breaking – but seeing them listed all together makes the concept of measuring one’s life in this way seem so arbitrary as to devalue even the ‘important’ ones.
Soon the successes and failures we look at are not just Jennifer’s CV fodder, but more complex than that – her marriage, her decision not to have children, her sense of fulfilment, hobbies and relationships. Terry O’Donovan and Clare Dunn play Jennifer at all the various stages of her life, while Stuart Barter generally takes charge of proceedings. The three of them also take it in turns to lead certain sections of the seminar and combine to create atmospheric live music.
In addition to the music, this inventive team take plenty of structural risks, filling the show with strange little moments, like having the audience read a letter from Jennifer to a pen pal as if it is a test, and quizzing everyone on it later. The section in which Jennifer goes on her first date, to the cinema – they create a song using a looping machine, pass popcorn to their chosen audience members, sit in the darkness with the light flickering just right – is particularly charmingly rendered. What’s more, Toot manages to create an indefinable mood that is fascinating: you aren’t sure what they will do next, but you know it will be interesting.
As a believable human being’s successes and failures are laid out before you, it becomes clear how difficult it is to quantify and define the things that make a life – because this is not a life, this list of things. We rarely get a sense of the real Jennifer, though she is deeply considered and well-played, and this, presumably, is their point. There is invention here for invention’s sake and risks taken just to see what will happen, and behind all that daring there is a genuine and rather moving message. An intriguing, truly original piece of theatre from a very exciting company.
Ten Out of Ten can be seen at 16.00 at Assembly Hall, every day until 26 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.