Adam Boakes, Anti-Capitalism, Drugs, Edinburgh Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Emma Louise Maw, Gayle Madine, Ghosts, Hannah Pierce, Idealism, Illegal Rave, Jennifer Thompson, Lewis Matthews, Made from Scratch, Nihilism, Pleasance Courtyard, Police, Politics, Rave, Stuart Pursell, Theatre Review, Utopia, Youth
Stuart Pursell and Made from Scratch‘s first full-length play “Body of Water,” which has just finished a run at the Pleasance Courtyard, is about the battle for young people’s hearts and minds. A group of squatters host a gigantic party and launch a new political movement. Their story is told from the apocalyptic perspective of two police officers (Gayle Madine and Lewis Matthews) whose investigation into this movement’s destruction is interspersed with ghostly scenes from its inception.
To my eye, this play owes a lot to “Cherubim and Seraphim,” the episode of Inspector Morse that was directed by Danny Boyle, in which the gloomy detective puzzles over the idealism and nihilism of rave culture. “Body of Water” initially seems like an indictment of an entire generation – a story about the failure of leadership and responsibility which renders youth culture fundamentally inconsequential. The squatters are all inevitably the children of bankers; they speak about “amphetamines” in a very pointed way, as if this was a fashionable new swear word; whilst their bourgeois ghastliness is epitomised by their oddly unrhythmic dancing, which fills the air with outstretched arms, in huge, childlish displays of self.
Charging entry to their utopia, they end up taking money with one hand and wagging a finger at capitalism with the other, as one character puts it, but their hypocrisy has an obviously wretched quality, as if nobody could be really surprised or outraged by it. The same sense of weary expectancy negates the eventual revelation about the mansion that has fallen into their hands. The squatters are idealistic in the same determined, frustrated note that the resident party-pooper [quite literally, as it turns out] (Emma Louise Maw) is cynical. The investigating DC Smith’s forlorn attempts to chat up his boss, with coffee and Hungry Hippoes, may seem like a subplot, but the point of Smith’s messing about is that the pigs are having more fun in their office than these young people ever experienced in their rave.
But to his credit Pursell does not leave things here, and rather like Michael Wicherek’s Fringe hit “Time for the Good Looking Boy,” the play’s political message turns out to be merely light dancing on the water, with a good old-fashioned ghost story/whodunit waiting below. Where once there was idealism, whatever now sustains the young is ultimately destructive, whilst annihilation provides sweetness and light.
Tychy almost put off seeing “Body of Water” because the other Fringe reviewers had agreed that it was lacklustre and underwhelming, but I was glad to catch it by the tail. Perhaps it had got better over the Fringe – perhaps all shows are masterpieces by the end of the Fringe – or else, as with every year, Tychy is relearning the same lesson that Fringe theatre criticism can never be trusted. The writing alone made “Body of Water” worthwhile, as the play is an elaborate and ambitious work of craftsmanship, but the acting was sound and it was a considerable feat to compact such a big play into such a small space. Made from Scratch have now left the Fringe, but I will keep an eye out for them next year.