By Jen McGregor
A performance conducted entirely over Skype, Long Distance Affair brings individual audience members into contact with strangers from all over the world, apparently performing in real time in 30 different countries. Each of these interactions is referred to as an “affair”, which sounds like it should make the audience member’s role quite clear. However, it’s not – I found myself cast as someone’s therapist, an online date, then (I think) as someone’s ex. This made for some awkward, halting moments of trying to figure out what was going on.
The concept is great, but it needs a clearer setup and smoother execution. There’s a lot of waiting and being shuffled around into a particular order, which creates the sense that there is a “right” way to participate. This limits the freedom that we are meant to feel when interacting with these strangers. Company members wait around to move us from screen to screen and connect our calls, so even though we all wear headphones and the conversation is ostensibly private, it’s impossible to forget that what we are saying is being overheard.
It’s also not entirely clear what we are supposed to get out of these fleeting moments. Each performer plays out a little interactive scenario, but the characters are superficially drawn and it’s difficult to take them very seriously. With a little more depth they might have provoked some genuine and surprising emotional responses, but instead they’re a little flat and it’s only the knowledge that the ushers can hear me that prevents me from trolling them to see how far they will go. Perhaps this is what I should have done, but if that’s the case then an atmosphere of greater liberty needs to be created.
The opportunity for a final interaction with the characters is nicely handled and there are some clever ideas, but they would have packed more of a punch if the “affairs” themselves had had a little more power. There’s plenty of mileage in this idea and Popup Theatrics are certainly an interesting company, but at the moment it’s a quirky experience that doesn’t make the impact it could. With a few refinements, it could easily take the audience to places they never would have anticipated.
Long Distance Affair runs at Summerhall until 25 August at various times. Running time is 40 minutes.