Testing the Echo Review
There's a momentary hesitation in the opening of David Edgar's 'Testing the Echo', as actors cross the stage, sitting down only to move again - possibly a reflection on the unsettled lives of migrants in a globalising world, but perhaps also indicating the shifting positions implicit in Edgar's script. This is a brave crack at unpicking notions of 'Britishness', cultural misperception and prejudice, with occasionally bold swipes at bureaucratic attempts to define 'culture' and 'history' in ways acceptable to a computer programme.
The new dispensation, testing those who wish to become British citizens with some twenty four questions, charging them thirty four pounds for the dubious privilege, is clearly ripe for savage
satire, though 'Testing the Echo' veers carefully away from outright caricature. From plays such as 'Entertaining Strangers' (originally for Ann Jellicoe's Colwyn Theatre Trust) and 'Heartlanders' (for Birmingham Repertory Theatre) to 'Testing the Echo', Edgar has produced a series of multi-layered, ensemble pieces almost painterly in their detail, concerned in many ways and instances with identities, personal, cultural or ethnic.
Here a deliberately diverse group of ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) students struggle with both a foreign language and the daunting prospect of a Citizenship Test at the end of their course. Entwined with their stories are those of Mahmood (Sushil Chudasama), struggling to overcome drug addiction and also achieve the British Citizen status his father coveted for him, and of Tetyana (Kirsty Bushell) and her step-daughter Muna (Farzana Dua Elahe), whose cautious, stake-laden relationship is beautifully realised here.
Between the light and shade in scenes depicting the students struggles with the English language and British cultural values, three historians doorstep the audience with varying accounts of these islands histories, confusing (deliberately, one suspects) rather than enlightening.
Meanwhile, ESOL teacher Emma (Teresa Banham) entertains dinner-party guests whose opinions outrage only by their uncomfortable closeness to those of an outspoken red-top press. On a screen behind the actors, blog entries reflect other, sometimes equally extreme perceptions. It's somewhere in this diversity that 'Testing the Echo' somehow manages to lose touch with the realities it strives to point up.
Identity is perpetually under threat in a commodifying world, itself threatened by the attempt to build a community of believers which is Islam. In these islands, identity has rarely been unproblematic for those unable to comfortably conform to homogenising tendencies; Ian (Sushil Chudasma again), in soliloquy toward the end of the play, offers as neat, in its unassuming way, a summation of this reality as one is likely to get outwith Brain Friel's 'Translations', recently playing in Glasgow.
'Testing the Echo' is a high-energy piece, receiving in this production the tight ensemble work it clearly requires. All the cast work hard and benefit greatly from the excellent direction of Matthew Dunster and design work of Paul Wills. Phillip Gladwell's lighting and Ian Dickinson's soundscape neatly complement stage action.
Bill Dunlop, 2008. Published on EdinburghGuide.com. February, 2008