Review: What If I Told You, Army at The Fringe

Choreographer and theatre-maker Pauline Mayers invites you to take a moment and breathe. Stories of her past suspend the present and consider the future within a careful balance of dance and theatre. In What If I Told You, a two-part immersive performance at Edinburgh’s Army Reserve Centre, her own history parallels with that of James Marion Sims (1813-1883), an American physician known as the “father of modern gynaecology”. A post-performance discussion taken by the poet and playwright Khadijah Ibrahiim provides an opportunity to reflect on the work and brings the piece to the close, imparting an appreciation of new information and a fresh motivation to make a difference, no matter how small.

Sims’ use of enslaved African-American women as experimental subjects in his surgical development is revisited through Mayers’ own experiences of discrimination. A crisis in her mid-forties provided her with a heightened awareness of others, and of the connections and separations in twenty-first century society. Charged with the sound of difference, the audience actively participate in Mayers’ history and visit events surrounding her gender, background and race. At no point is the audience allowed to be passive, although choice remains a potent element of the production to give those complicit in her story what she was denied at the time.

Mayers is a wonderful host. She dances across memories, moving from corner to corner of the black box theatre. Her choreography has a compelling lineage, and with each movement there comes a meaning and story of its own. Volunteers help to conjure these images of the past, slowly connecting with their bodies to the sounds of Barbados. Audio recordings of the infamous historian, radio and television presenter David Starkey are woven into Mayers beautiful honesty, and with this integrity came trust. As the group fall deeper into her narrative, each individual becomes bound to the legacy of pain that she shares. Strangers grow familiar as they are excluded and embraced in the dark, and strong, face the reality of Britain today.

What If I Told You uses theatre as a tool for change, and succeeds. Mayers and her new friends burn brightly, lit up like the Candle of Hope resting in the window of the Mess Bar. What seemed invisible became wonderfully tangible, but no advances can be made without first redeeming past wrongs. And so, “Into history we must go…”

What if I Told You is playing at Army@The Fringe in Association with Summerhall until August 26. For more information and tickets, see www.tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/what-if-i-told-you

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

Josephine Balfour-Oatts

Josephine graduated from The University of Bristol with a BA(Hons) in Drama in 2016. Currently based in London, she is a keen writer with an interest in Experimental Theatre. You can spot her in any audience by her colourful glasses chains and energetic biro.