Review: The Female Role Model Project, Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe

Unfortunately, The Female Role Model Project is exactly that: a project. Its billing is promising, with talk of an interactive theatrical experience supported by neuroscientific technology. The company’s undertaking is a commendable one too, giving focus to female pioneers and other inspirational women across history. More specifically, Transforma Theatre Inc. seek to understand the influence that these figures can have on the activity of one’s brain — a bold but overambitious experiment.

Audience members (with the exception of one golden ticket holder, who has no choice but to join in) are asked to volunteer for certain creative tests. Dressed in EEG (Electroencephalography) headsets, sound and video designers (Justin Matthews and John Jannone respectively) have created algorithms to transform brain waves into an audio-visual matrix. Impressive? Absolutely. Thought-provoking? Debatable.

That said, the themes present within the piece are worthy of their stage. The cast move across three parts: childhood, adolescence and adulthood. Together they explore gendered words, sexuality and motherhood, sewing their own personal stories into the action. These are the most affecting moments of the piece. The pure, human experiences that they share are profound and delicate — the audience can’t help but become involved.  The Female Role Model Project doesn’t need any gadgets or extra accessories. In fact, its strengths are weighed down by the circus of technology and strained sense of immersivity throughout. Also, the inclusion of feedback sessions and overwrought dissections of the “narrative” only serve to slow down proceedings. 

At an hour and 30 minutes, the production is stretched far longer than is necessary. 60 minutes concentrating solely on the performers would suffice. As a group, they demonstrate real chemistry and are working with intimate materials. There is no need either, to include vapid portrayals of modern celebrities (like that of Kim Kardashian and Melania Trump). The actors are heroines enough.

The Female Role Model Project has potential, but needs some serious refinement. There is no doubt that tech has its place in art, but in its current form, the event feels like an arranged marriage. Ultimately, it spreads itself too thinly: a Jackie of all trades, mistress of none.

The Female Role Model Project is playing the Bedlam Theatre until 25 August, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.