Wednesday, August 9, 2006

(I am) Nobody's Lunch

by Andrew Burnet


GOVERNMENTS have been lying to their citizens since democracy was in diapers. But the Bush administration has been able to raise state mendacity to a whole new level, thanks to the erosion of public faith in anything and anyone, from the New York Times to the Homeland Security service.

That, broadly speaking, is the premise behind this compelling show from the Civilians, a New York-based company making its Edinburgh debut. Based on vox-pop interviews conducted in 2003 - the year of "shock and awe", weapons of mass destruction and the (some say) staged rescue of Private First Class Jessica Lynch - the show explores what modern Americans actually believe in the face of (dis)information overload.

Is the US army practising torture at Guantanamo Bay? Can the use of torture ever be justified? Is George W Bush actually a giant lizard? And is Tom Cruise really gay, or maybe just a little bit bisexual? Whose word do you trust anyway?

This is a kind of cabaret, with original songs by Michael Friedman interspersed with re-enactments of the interviews. The songs, arch, witty and beautifully performed, play on Americans' wistful, disenchanted love affair with their nation; while the interviews expose not only the failure of political faith, but also the freakish belief systems that spring up in its place. Most intriguing of all is the "channeler", the mouthpiece for an extra-terrestrial, who patiently explains that his race is "farming" humanity so it can feed on our fear.

Meanwhile, there's a suspicious bag that the cast can't get rid of - and it's mewing. Could this have something to do with Erwin Schroedinger's famous thought experiment, involving the life expectancy of a cat in a box?

The design is based around pink and grey - indeterminate, blanded-out colours that contrast tellingly with the reassuring certainties of red, white and blue. Steven Cosson, who scripted the show from the company's material, directs it with assurance. Above all, it's a piece that bristles with ideas. And although it poses many troubling questions, it does carry one clear message: there's nothing to be gained from compliance or complacency.

-Until 28 August.