Review: Trying It On

David Edgar's formally inventive one-man show sees the 71-year-old playwright in conversation with his younger self to investigate what happened to the Sgt Pepper generation

theatre review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
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David Edgar
Photo by Lara Cappelli
Published 06 Aug 2019

David Edgar would like to know what happened to his generation, those young radicals who "came of age between 'Love Me Do' and 'Let It Be'", only to ditch their idealism for the kind of far-right populism that brought us Brexit in 2016. More precisely, he'd like to know what happened to himself.

Now 71, the prolific playwright is appearing on stage for the first time since university to inform his younger self of the baby boomers' rapturous embrace of neoliberalism and his own move to the mainstream after his radical beginnings in agitprop theatre.

Edgar is an avuncular stage presence but the show is far from cosy. The proscenium is ruptured from moment one with the house lights staying up as Edgar gives us some tongue-in-cheek trigger warnings ("This production has at least one catastrophic piece of miscasting"). Later, he polls us on our own political leanings (surprisingly for The Traverse, one audience member admits to being a Tory) and asks us to generalise on what an unemployed 55-year-old plumber from Burnley might think about immigration and free-market economics, scrolling our answers on the busy set constructed from piles of boxes and filing cabinets.

Long before Edgar starts equating Princess Diana's funeral to Steve Biko's, you sense there's something subversive going on. More ruptures in the play's fabric are to follow and what initially appears to be a glorified TED Talk becomes infinitely more thorny and thought-provoking. Self-aware and pin-sharp, Edgar delivers a personal and political play that's more radical than his 20-year-old firebrand self could ever imagine.