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As Far As Impossible – Edinburgh International Festival

The supertitles (as this production calls them – I’m more used to the term ‘surtitles’) work brilliantly in this multilingual show. That is, of course, as it should be, but I’ve sat through more than enough supertitled shows where the words on display don’t keep pace either way with the dialogue as it is being spoken on stage. The show itself is the result of interviews of people who have experience in overseas humanitarian work. The interviewees have been told precisely why they are being interviewed, which piques their interest. Will they be invited to the show? Who will play them – will it be someone they have heard of? Others are more interested in privacy and confidentiality: there are, for the record, no names at all, as far as I recall – just descriptions, for instance, of a casualty referred to as ‘the kid’, of surgeons, colleagues, and military personnel.

As Far As Impossible, Edinburgh International Festival © Tiago Rodriguez
As Far As Impossible, Edinburgh International Festival © Tiago Rodriguez

I hate the theatre,” one of them plainly says. She won’t be coming to see the production. There is scepticism and surprise that writer and director Tiago Rodrigues is really putting As Far As Impossible on stage. Are they and the work they do interesting enough to draw people to the theatre? A documentary film is one thing, but a stage show? The anonymised accounts tell it like it is, and the aid workers don’t necessarily need to be out there in the field, or as this show likes to put it, in “the impossible” to be exasperated – one of them is enjoying the comfort of home life, only to turn on the television news and find herself screaming, “What the f—k?!

If there is ‘the impossible’, there must be ‘the possible’, and the latter sphere is where most people happen to be – where international humanitarian emergency relief efforts are not an immediate necessity. The two-hour running time without an interval was, for people like me not used to that, a tad uncomfortable, but seemed indicative of the length of time some of the interviews took: once the aid workers started to open up, there was no stopping some of them, until they realised quite how much time had passed.

As might be expected, there were some audible gasps from the audience as the four actors, Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble and Natacha Koutchoumov, told some very harrowing stories. There were those who acknowledged what the aid workers were doing and called a ceasefire to allow aid to be administered, unhindered. And then, well, there were those who didn’t. There is even insight into their home lives, with many aid workers not able to share their experiences with family and friends, if only because it’s not exactly appropriate for the Christmas, birthday or milestone anniversary dinner table.

Gabriel Ferrandini plays a drum kit and some other percussion instruments with great skill, speed and precision, and the show makes great use of his abilities. I’m not sure, however, how much the elongated instrumental sections added to the overall performance, except perhaps to mimic in some way the relentless sounds of artillery in a war zone. They were, it seemed to me, too long and too loud, and a fellow patron in my row stuck her fingers in her ears at one point, although I hasten to add the venue had made disposable ear plugs available free of charge.

The only thing missing is a perspective or two from recipients of aid. There are, of course, various reasons why these aren’t provided – confidentiality for one thing, language barriers for another, and the sheer reality of the high fatality rate despite the humanitarians’ best efforts. Complex scenarios are dealt with in some detail, which in a world that likes a soundbite or a TikTok video, is impressive.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

What drives someone to risk their life to help others? As the son of a doctor and a journalist, director Tiago Rodrigues has often wondered why he chose to tell stories about the world rather than attempt to save it in a concrete way. As Far As Impossible reveals the world through the eyes of people involved in humanitarian work. Rodrigues is a virtuoso in the art of blending personal stories with wider history. Inspired by their testimonies, he met staff from the International Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders to create this work. In a multilingual performance, the show exposes the dilemmas of those who come and go between troubled areas of intervention and their own peaceful homes. It questions how this double life changes the way we look at the world and our personal lives.

Tiago Rodrigues: Writer & Director
Thomas Resendes: Translation
Laurent Junod, Wendy Tokuoka, Laura Fleury: Scenographers
Gabriel Ferrandini: Composer
Rui Monteiro: Lighting Designer
Pedro Costa: Sound Designer
Magda Bizarro: Costume Designer & Artistic Collaboration
Lisa Como: Assistant Director

Cast: Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble, Natacha Koutchoumov & Gabriel Ferrandini (Musician)

Performed in English, French & Portuguese, with English & French supertitles.

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