It is a risky move to say, in response to a piece of art: ‘I just did not get this’. It invites people to become defensive, to say that my experience was somehow incorrect, and there is an implication that my criticisms are just invalid. Nonetheless, ‘Edison’, by Static Assembly, is a show I just did not get. I tried throughout to figure out the narrative, the message, and it constantly evaded me like some imp, daring me to keep up with the disorientation, the spiralling lights, and I admit defeat. It was a piece of avant garde art that pinned me to my chair with golden ribbons and waterboarded me with bizarre, cryptic monologues; yet I was beaming throughout despite my knitted brow.
The production shows us a psychedelic raving version of reality in which Thomas Edison (who takes on a role more similar to Scrooge McDuck as he flaunts around in his own wealth, literally), seemingly hyped up on his own over-inflated ego, governs a dystopian electrical plant in which his workers are exploited, drained, and mind-controlled to achieve villainous capital. ‘is there any other kind, Ladies and Gentlemen?’ it seems to ask, as employees of this company burst into high chorus line kicks and throw streamers and sing their praises for Edison. American exceptionalism is under the microscope here, it seems, with Edison’s image and work elevated to religious degrees. Meanwhile, Nikola Tesla is attempting to reach Edison’s office to share the plans for his famous coil, and narrowly escaping death as his fellows are murdered by a pigeon goddess, because that is the plot.
The moment I start to think ‘I have played enough of the Bioshock franchise to know where this is going’, Edison is torn to shreds by rebelling factory workers, and Nikola Tesla is honoured as the newest industrial hero of the future, today.
The company here are undoubtedly extremely talented artists. They writhe and contort themselves into ingenious shapes, physical theatre being evoked to convey strong emotion, a sense of context. People become machines becoming people. They spin and sing and reach up and out, dancing with their fingers, toes, acutely and disturbingly aware of every inch of skin and muscle. It is astounding to watch, and I could not help but wish there was more of an opportunity for these skills, this type of dance, to be shown off. Combined with the excellent sound and media design, Static Assembly have created a bustling, horrifying glimpse of American insanity and desire with only a handful of people and a recording device. Sounds range from acapella voices, chicken clucks, scratchy nails of a microphone, offensively loud fanfares- it’s a cacophony for the eyes as well as the ears. It is almost too much. Maybe this is why I was lost, too far buried under all of the lights and the noise to be able to see through it all.
This production knows what it is, and that is beyond admirable. It is proud, and polished, and mad as hell. The cast are strong, emotional, and clearly passionate. They throw themselves into this wonderland of greed and pigeon goddesses, and it feels real to them. I applaud that, that confidence and conviction. They are a company with great things ahead of them.
It is unfortunate that people left during the performance, as this is something that has to be seen to be believed, to exist. I stumbled out of the room, stunned, with yellow tape trailing behind me and the inky face of Edison himself, stamped on the back of my hand, looking up at me: the only reminders that the chaos had not just been a fever dream.