17 Border Crossings

Thaddeus Phillips

Lucidity Suitcase Intercontinental in association with Aurora Nov

Summerhall

From 05 August 2015 to 30 August 2015

Rating: ****

Review by Keith Mckenna

We never get to hear why the American is travelling in Thaddeus Phillips's atmospheric play 17 Border Crossings, but that hardly matters. This is a story about the crossing points between countries and the things that can happen during that crossing.

The show begins with a brief story of the passport’s evolution and why microwaving your US passport to destroy its implanted electronic tracking might be useful, particularly if you were planning to visit Cuba which the US has banned as a destination for its citizens.

Phillip’s fast-moving monologue uses a minimal rack of lights which he manually alters to evoke moving trains, isolated border posts, the inside of a plane, interview rooms and the embankments of a river.

Among the trips he talks about is the 1992 scary journey into a disintegrating Yugoslavia after being told by the US government that it was safe. As soldiers fill up tourist buses, it quite clearly is not.

Some of his journeys are strange. In one crossing by train, a mysterious stranger piles huge bags on nearby seats and as they cross the border he heaves them from the moving carriage into the dark night.

In Gaza, it seems you can order a fried chicken from Egypt which by an elaborate network of tunnels can arrive cold and greasy to your table.

Occasionally, the show reminds us of the more difficult journey taken by migrants from poor countries. In Mexico, a migrant intending to take the dangerous desert route into the US pauses for a while to explain to Philips why he prefers the word alien to the word migrant. There is also the fate of those who try to travel to another country via the undercarriage of planes, where the temperature may fall to below minus 50 degrees.

17 Border Crossings is essentially the story of a tourist. Its mood is mostly upbeat and humorous. But Philips has a gently subversive eye for the absurdities that the borders to countries create.