The ambition of interactive performance utilising innovative digital and new media technologies eclipses the human narrative of Grid Iron’s ambitious site-specific production, Leaving Planet Earth, presented as part of the Edinburgh International Festival.
Taking off from a city in full festival flush, eschewing the great North Bridge dash, downed pre-show wines and inhaled post-show falafel to start a new life on a new planet should be a reenergising experience, but the spectacle is held down from taking flight by its wordiness. On the premise of having abandoned a planet overcome by war and a climate out of control, you join coach-loads of other migrants from Old Earth. With a vibrating “personal quantifier” on your fist and clutching a scrap of rock representing your designated plot of land on New Earth, there is a sense of excitement from the off.
Edinburgh International Climbing Arena is an spectacular stand-in for Galactic Future Organisation’s (GFO) acclimatisation centre. Vast and interweaving, it’s the climbing arena which steals the show. The most arresting image of the evening is in watching fellow migrants course through the mesh-floored levels in swarms. GFO’s acclimatisation centre functions as a hive, with collected memorabilia from Old Earth stored like nectar in honeycomb and all members of the community working under the instruction of queen bee, Vela, the former aid worker charged with establishing a new colony.
A tinge of Crystal Maze style adventure pervades as GFO’s soldiers, scientists and wellbeing staff chirpily guide you around your new home. The complications come with the sci-fi future-speak which is batted about above the heads of the audience. The inhabitants of New Earth communicate almost entirely in subtext with the audience becoming privy to an increasingly more convoluted set of secrets. It becomes difficult to follow the emotion at the heart of the story whilst adapting to the terminologies of New Earth. Longing, guilt and the desire to try to do what is right are buried between empty mantras.
There is an ongoing feeling of two aesthetics at conflict. The many videos shown during the evening are a mix of low-fi corporate induction and snazzy computer generated images. The buzzcut practicality of the soldiers’ haircuts jars alongside stylised make-up, sequins and go-faster stripes shaved into the sides of their heads. Ideas of a life where you can alter the tone of your laugh for a couple of hundred credits is at odds with the cultish, moralistic fables the new society is built on.
There is little room for either personal exploration or group bonding as we’re guided from one set of canteen chairs to the next. Excitement was waning by the end of our induction. Slouching around the sparsely kitted out Museum of Old Earth waiting to be summoned for the dramatic denouement you can’t help but feel it’s been a long night. Herded into the House of the Gatekeeper for Final Closure, is a moment that flashed with a dangerous thrill. It’s an ambitious project, beautifully light and with a pulsing, hair raising sound design which is unfortunately lost, not in space, but by its own rhetoric.
Leaving Planet Earth is part of the Edinburgh International Festival. For more information see the Edinburgh International Festival website.