EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: STANDARD:ELITE, Bedlam Theatre
Coming to Edinburgh with awards from both Brighton and Manchester Fringes, Standard:Elite from Hidden Track Theatre Company is an interactive piece of political theatre on the theme of social class.
At the outset of the show, a few lucky souls are chosen through dice rolls on entrance to be the Elite. Fawned over by the cast, given seats of honour and markers of their status to wear, Elites are able to vote on the direction of the story.
Social mobility is not dead, however, as the rest of us, dubbed "Standards" without the same level of sycophancy, are able to work our way up if we wish to take part in one of several voluntary challenges that help tell the tale.
The show is led by two energetic storytellers in pierrot make-up - Sophie Mackenzie and Elliot Hughes, the latter of whom also wrote the show. They are accompanied by live sound and music from Joe Brownbridge, a sinister figure on the sidelines, who occasionally swaps his simpering grin for a hint of menace when things get out of hand.
Our storytellers lead us through an allegorical tale of a working-class girl from Lowground and a boy, fallen from the upper-class Highground far above. The girl is persuaded to help him make his way back home to the top, though his immense wealth helps clear their way far more than her labours ever could. The story is brought to life with the aid of representative costume pieces and puppets fashioned from repurposed objects, lending the production a pleasantly homespun aesthetic.
The political parallels are rather obvious throughout, but as the story devolves into inevitable conflict and chaos, Hughes's script wisely avoids trying to tie things up neatly, and the format helps to avoid it becoming trite. Indeed, the production is at its most clever when it shows the ludicrous futility of always presenting binary choices.
The show's audience interaction is lightly done and very well considered, with a distinct feeling of being in safe hands throughout. All audience members are given a card saying "No thank you" they are encouraged to show the performers if they don't want to engage, and which will likely be stolen in the service of fending off flyers for the rest of the month.
The clever format illustrates our own complicity in a crooked system without ever becoming preachy, and keeps us engaged throughout, whether by deciding which character will be struck by lightning, taking part in bowling-themed revolution or eating that most elite of class symbols - the Tunnock's Teacake. There are laughs throughout, both at the political satire and the competitiveness of fellow audience members in striving for a coveted Elite spot.
The overall impression is that of an inventive, engrossing work with a little bit of bite, memorably realised by a talented young company. Alternatively playful and sinister, Standard: Elite is consistently entertaining, whether as participant or simply spectator.