M.E.H (4 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Connor Harris

Intellectual and hilarious feminist histories

The Outbound Project are a beautiful example of how the Fringe allows space for dynamic dramaturgies and forceful philosophies. Rapidly introducing a meta-theatrical commentary on both the show's retelling of the work of Jean-Martin Charcot and their own process, the ensemble cast sprint through the history of mass epidemic hysteria while commenting wryly on the conventions of contemporary performance.

Between magic tricks, audience interaction, and comic episodes from the lives of Charcot and the 'hysterics' who were both the subjects of his research and the stars of his 'performance lectures' in the 1800s, M.E.H makes serious points about agency, the manipulation of women by patriarchal science (and their resistance strategies) and the way that theatre itself models an excluding hierarchy of power. A lone dancer is caged in the corner, enacting wild choreography that either comments on the episodes or seeks to distract from the words of the ensemble. The magician commands the stage as the director, challenging the performers to get in line and reflect on their process – and the failures of those others.

The witty dialogues and monologues combine searing insights and comfortable wit, and the loose structure operates as a deconstruction of theatrical form – a false ending is replaced by a frenetic dance sequence, something which has become a cliche in Fringe ensemble performance. The interruptions of scenes by the magician, or the self-consciously rudimentary beards that transform a performer from female to male, offer an advance on the kind of fourth wall breaking that comes from Brecht but is now an over-familiar trope. Yet these weaknesses are exaggerated, without descending into farce, conjuring an atmosphere that is bracing, antagonistic and familiar.

While there is a heritage of similar feminist theatre that is self-aware, witty, broad in its populism but precise in its critiques, The Outbound Project bring a new perspective to Charcot's psychological invetsigations and the way that theatre can both illuminate and obscure.

Underbelly, until 25 Aug (not 12), 12.10pm, £9.50-£10.50 (£8.50-£9.50).


  • 4 stars

The Outbound Project Ancient Egypt: wandering womb theory first recorded. 1518: hundreds of people dance uncontrollably on the streets of Strasbourg. 1877: Dr Jean-Martin Charcot gives demonstrations of hypnosis on female "hysterics" in Paris. 2019: an award-winning theatre company write this blurb. Right now: you read…