Two Destination Language make theatre that creates intercultural dialogue in unexpected places. In Fault Lines, they’ve transformed the Old Lab at Summerhall into a catwalk, lined with neon tubes, projecting out from an industrial-style changing room heaped with garments. A DJ booth sits at the far end of the catwalk and Madonna’s Vogue is playing at disco-worthy volumes.
We’ve been instructed to bring smartphones (with a particular app downloaded) and headphones. So we find ourselves with a choice of six channels: three featuring playlists of female-fronted songs; one featuring a description of the action on stage; one featuring a history of the English language, and one featuring anecdotes from the performers’ lives.
As we choose our channel, the performers Cindy Awor and Hannah Yahya Hassan take to the catwalk, flaunting fashion convention in baggy jumpers and combat trousers. They pout, cavort, stare out at the audience with winsome provocation, daring us to look away. Over a sequence of walks, and through a series of costume changes, the cast challenge conventional notions of fashion, beauty and what it is to be female.
Welly O’Brien, a professional dancer who lost part of her leg in an accident, is a feisty, beautiful provocation to less imaginative notions of physical perfection. Caroline Ryan signs her dialogue throughout the piece, entreating us to question our expectations of communication as much as of gender roles. And Damyana Radeva, the youngest cast member, radiates innocence alongside the lewdly suggestive behaviour of the older women.
There are lots of ideas jostling for attention here. Creators Katherina Radeva and Alister Lownie continue to explore what it means to be considered an ‘other’ – whether because of language, looks, race, ability or disability. The channel tellingly titled ‘Belonging’ is full of stories of feeling left out and of not fitting in. And the tableaus created by the performers echo this idea: visually striking but always with a subtle – or not so subtle – discordant note.
The fun of the piece is your control over your soundtrack; as the dancers donned rubber gloves, pinafores and took up their mops and brushes, they were accompanied with an eerie nod to another trope, by a track about sluts. Yet while it afforded the audience the luxury of creating an individual version of the show, it was also a channel-hopping distraction in a show that started to feel too long by the end: it also led to the temptation to watch the audience instead, trying to figure out who was listening to what. Without a clear idea of the customised soundtrack’s purpose (the only thing we are completely free to choose in life?), a pre-curated, shared version might have created a stronger narrative thread.
As it was, Fault Lines is a funny, observant pastiche of some of the stereotypes, lazy assumptions and injustices of life in this land in this decade. It is a bold and brave piece of theatre that hopefully provides some food for thought.