When first planning for the 2020 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Grid Iron Theatre Company envisaged a “bucolic month” in a planned outdoor version of Erlend Loe’s Norwegian novel Doppler. Back then, of course, artistic directors Judith Doherty and Ben Harrison had no idea of the pandemic that would emerge, and the relevance that a story of isolation, re-engagement with nature, and questioning of lifestyle would have in today’s world.
A prescient and poignant tale, Doppler tells of a man who chooses to live alone in the forest after the death of his father, even abandoning his pregnant wife and children in the city. Gradually he realises total isolation and escape from modern living are not the answer. The documentary Doppler: The Story So Far tells of the company’s valiant attempts to run a COVID-compliant production, the subsequent cancellation of the Fringe, and their resilience in working towards a 2021 presentation.
Performers Keith Fleming, Sean Hay, Itxaso Moreno and David A. Pollock take on various roles. Music and sound, puppetry, and the atmospheric setting of Gifford Community Woodland enrich the dramatised words. Interviews with several of the Grid Iron team, and such arts luminaries as Shona McCarthy, Jude Henderson and Joyce McMillan, are interspersed with effective clips from the drama. As the documentary comes to a close, you have a sense of a juggernaut of talent and energy at work on this as yet unfulfilled project. Andrew Begg’s cinematography, alongside Harrison’s direction and script, do much to suggest the potential 2021 highlight to come – if Grid Iron’s laudable ambitions come to fruition later this year.
This documentary is spot-on, cogent and trenchant. Doppler questions our materialist culture; urges renewed connection with nature; and reminds us to see the good in people. All of which matter hugely at a time when events have forced us apart. Will we choose a different life when we have choices again?
Grid Iron should be admired for the work they have done this year, with help from Creative Scotland. McMillan sees Grid Iron’s project as showing potential for a future style of theatre that is rich in ‘promenade’ events and site-specific narratives. Above all, Doppler: The Story So Far acts as a reminder to how much we need to find a way to return to the shared experience of theatre. I, for one, cannot wait to see the drama for real.