What If I Told You

The Mayers Ensemble

Army @ The Fringe in Association with Summerhall

From 11 August 2017 to 26 August 2017

Rating: ***

Review by Graeme Strachan

Immersive theatre with audience interaction can be a hit and miss approach dependent on the level of participation required and the skill of the actor to bring the concept together.

Pauline Mayer's semi-autobiographical performance What if I Told You seems to bring together a blend of themes from her experiences as a woman, as a person of colour and as a dancer, whilst also bringing the audience together in a dancing, moving form.

Mayer herself is a capable and interesting host, taking pains to look each audience member in the eyes at the start and ensure the comfort and feeling of welcome is sure throughout. She encourages them to relax and be aware of themselves, the sounds around them, and at times to greet and hug one another.

Between such moments, she walks, skips and dances around, relating tales of her youth, of her obsession with the movie, Fame and the difficulties of never fitting in both in London and in Barbados.

Meanwhile, this is all contrasted with a repeated motif of a vignette of 19th century American gynaecologist James Marion Sims and some gentleman staring at a slave woman he is using for medical experimentation, a theme tied in with other moments of sporadic, cacophonic voiceover of yells of racist abuse and chants of "Black Live Matter!"

It's clear that, in combining Mayer's story with these other elements, we are to find a compelling picture of her inner feelings and experiences, painted widely in themes rather than spelled out. However, the resultant effect is one of a scattershot approach, where the theme seems more important than the overall cohesion as the different elements don't gel together all too well and, despite the well-intentioned topics and stories, the disparate elements of performance, audience movement and story feel too jarring to be wholly effective.

Interestingly, each performance is followed by an entirely optional informal chat with a guest speaker who allows the audience to converse about what they took from the piece and discuss matters. It's a nice addition and will likely lead many who found the piece confusing to have it spelled out more clearly and those who pieced it together to help enlighten them.