First published in The Times, Monday August 14 2017
The writer and performer Daniel Bye has a track record for staging performance lectures that wear their hefty subjects and the depth of his research admirably lightly. He is best known for Going Viral, his award-winning exploration of viruses (in every sense of the word) and his multi-layered look at the idea of value, called The Price of Everything.
Bye’s performance style, which combines affable audience interaction with elements of multimedia, has always been something of an onstage juggling act, with lots of ideas thrown up in the air at once. His new piece, which deals with border crossings, in all their menace and absurdity, feels stylistically overstuffed, befuddling his message.
This is a shame because the compelling recurring conceit – in which Bye invites a member of the audience to play Jenga with him while he interrogates them about aspects of their personality and how they believe they would behave in certain situations – is compelling. The idea is supposedly lifted from a work by a legendary performance artist, Edward Shorter, in which two people play the game on either side of a border crossing. According to Bye, Shorter is such a legend that no written record of him or his work exists.
Pic: Alex Brenner
Involving audience members in performance is always risky, and Bye doesn’t have quite the improvisation skills to plug the gaps when his volunteers prove hesitant or inarticulate. When the performer then asks them to provide lo-fi sound and lighting effects while he relates the show’s central thread, about a young girl’s experience of attempting to seek asylum, rather than amplifying the narrative, this aural and visual assault proves an unwelcome distraction.
Bye is on surer ground when he engages us in verbatim readings of some farcical real-life interrogations, but, although there is a glimpse of a strong show here, it currently feels a couple of drafts away from completion.