You know how it is right? You’re walking around in a hungover fug, liver desperately trying to filter away the contents of Sainsbury’s drink section. Dull and bloodshot eyes looking for a corner to curl up and fall asleep in… and then all of a sudden you find yourself in a magical wonderland. Where an absurdist Chinese version of the cast of Glee are entrancing you with the heart touching story of an ageing couple looking back through the mists of time. Back to that time they got caught up with a gang of muggers-cum-insect cultists while out hunting for a magical butterfly. Sure, sometimes it feels like every Saturday morning just goes the same way eh?
No? Well, you’re all missing out then.
Around the World: My Journey Continued After You Left, running for I’ve no idea how much longer up at the Edinburgh Festival is a grand slice of the unpretentiously absurd in the middle of the city. Performed by what I’m guessing is a fairly prestigious group from China, it’s a perfectly staged, hour (or so) long hit of oddness which does all you need to qualify as happily strange without ever trying too hard.
Dialogue is eschewed in favour of a handful of random sounds which still manage to tell a story worth hearing. Mostly made up of (word free) song and dance numbers so polished that they’d probably really impress someone who knew more about those things than I do. As a layman though I certainly spent most of the show sitting there with an idiot grin on my face as beautifully poised dancers knocked out hyperactive songs without once thinking ‘this is getting on my nerves’. A miracle really given that I seldom manage that even when I’m sitting alone in an empty room.
I’m not going to go all that deeply into the plot. In part because I wouldn’t want to spoil it and in part because how you find yourself following it is a bit of a personal experience. Though I will say that the insect cult and the fat butterfly were personal high points for me, but then they might pass you by completely. And that’s the best bit about Around The World, the agenda free absurdism of it. Without trying to be odd or ‘zany’ it manages to create a properly immersive pallete of sounds, costumes and movement. One which you can sink into without once feeling that the creators have set out to be weird solely for the sake of it. And at the end you do find yourself being genuinely touched by the cast of monosyllabic, occasionally inept but always affectionate characters.
The only comparison I could really make for context would be to some of the efforts from Studio Ghibli but even then the medium is so different and the crowded simplicity so undemandingly giving that it isn’t one that stands to much. So perhaps I’d be better off saying what Around The World really isn’t despite what you might imagine it to be at a passing glance. For all the dressing up, enthusiasm and energy this is a million miles away from the sort of ‘aren’t we zany’ first year drama students attempt at surrealism. All of the magical wonder and indulgent immersion here is the product of a lot of work and talent which culminates in absurdism being done as it should – which is well – rather than as it so often is, which is as an easy cop out to building something complete.
Anyway, in summary, go see it if you get a chance. I managed to blag a free ticket but they were £12 otherwise and at that price I’d say it was well worth it. And now I’m off hunting for an overweight butterfly, hell, I may even sing as I go…