“Does anyone want to come and play Jenga with me?” A thoroughly unorthodox beginning to Instructions for Border Crossing. As I sat across from Daniel Bye, playing a civilised game of Jenga and discussing fear and Harry Potter, I had a feeling this show would be unpredictable.
Written and performed by Bye and impressively directed by Alex Swift, the work of Edward Shorter is reimagined into a thought-provoking and interactive performance piece. Shorter is an internationally-recognized historian of psychiatry and the author of numerous books, including those that explore psychiatry and asylum. Bye explains how a simple game of Jenga can be so much more when played either side of a guarded border.
Intertwined with fascinating audience volunteers (almost as eloquent as Bye himself), we learn about a girl who is sneaking across a border after destroying her British passport. The story is cleverly portrayed with lighting changes and seamless voice and accent modulations. Each audience participant aided the next section of the story by exploring the properties of an electric fan with a microphone, or creatively lighting the Jenga tower with a torch. These seemingly random actions become the sounds of a train and a helicopter circling a block of flats. Bye surprised me with his care in listening to the words of each volunteer and remembering them by name and their comments throughout.
This performance was meticulous and well thought out, from the minimal set of a table and chairs to microphoned airport barriers enhancing the sound of borders being opened and closed as each new volunteer entered the space. The audience is taken on a journey through raucous laughter and quiet contemplation as we are asked to raise our hands if we agree that we are courageous, tenacious, willing to rebel (or not). The underlying question seems not only to ask how one might cross a country’s border, but how to cross borders of ‘the norm’ and rebel against conformity.
The climax of the performance built as we were engrossed in short sketches in which the audience played opposite Bye, following words on a projection. Sometimes the audience played the border guards and sometimes the ‘victim’. A strange kinship seemed to form in the audience with this powerful performer, as we conformed for the sake of a dramatic piece, seeming to dip in and out of reality.
Bye was both a piercing — to the point of intimidating — character, as well as surprisingly comforting, as we discovered the fears and courage we share in this self-selecting audience. What do you fear? Failure? Brexit? The sharp, well-executed transitions between dramatic sketches and conversation left you wondering if you felt at ease or deeply uncomfortable.
Bye illuminated numerous glitches in the fabric of society in a decidedly brave way, dependent on the audience’s participation. I was left questioning everyday conformity and in awe of Bye’s ability to relate to an audience made up of such different people, uniting us with his performance.