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  • Flora Gosling

Review: Concerned Others (Summerhall)

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

A tiny window into a very big problem

There are a lot of shows that inspire compassion for a person with a drug problem, but not many that inspire compassion for a country with a drug problem. Even shows that incorporate an element of community, like Trainspotting Live, still feel detached from the rest of Scottish society, rather than a valuable and vulnerable part of it. Filling that space is Concerned Others, a visual theatre piece by Tortoise in a Nutshell which, for the most part, takes place on a tabletop.

(Photo Credit: Mihaella Bodlovic)

At first, we explore a city of tiny, 32 mm figurines. We hear interviews with those working to help victims of substance abuse, each story relating to a tiny scene in this landscape. In another scene, a screen-faced puppet struggles to resist a beer, his face a crumpled sheet of paper onto which we can project ourselves. In another, we see shoe-box-size spaces mimicking sites from real-life stories of substance abuse, the most unsettling part of which is the familiarity of the details like the COVID-style handwashing signs, and the Macbeth poster hung in the school classroom.

The manipulator of all of these scenes, devisor and performer Alex Bird, remains detached from them within the piece. He acts almost like a facilitator rather than a creative, allowing the audience to react to the ideas rather than marvelling at him and how he communicates them. None of the segments focuses on any one narrative for long, but rather than weakening the performance by not picking a protagonist, it strengthens it by generalising the problem. We see glimpses of enough stories to make us realise that if they gathered this many just for this show, imagine how many aren’t being told at all.

A major contributor to that is the interviews – which are uncommonly rich and insightful. There was a line near the end of the performance that made me well up – “What do you expect? It’s Scotland.” I don’t consider myself particularly patriotic, so it speaks to the strength of the performance that it can break down the dissociation most audiences have between themselves and those who suffer from substance abuse so effectively. Concerned Others offers a snapshot of Scotland and its relationship to drugs and alcohol, and anyone with any sense of love or belonging to Scotland will likely find themselves moved by it. Four stars.

Whispers from the Crowd: Quintessential Scottish theatre that uses every single moment. I just wanted to stay in it forever.

Concerned Others will play at Summerhall until August the 27th

(Photo Credit: Mihaella Bodlovic)


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