Role reversal

A unique performance during 'Live At The Scala' microfestival turned audience members into unwitting actors.

Tania El Khoury’s performance creates a phantom reality based on our paranoia and stereotype of terrorists. This photo of her show Jarideh was taken in a Middle Eastern country.

'Are you interested in seeing a special performance?"

"Yes, of course."

"Go sit in the chair that says 'reserved'."

The moment I sat down, a dark-eyed woman with a mop of curly hair seemed to materialise from nowhere. She sat opposite me and spoke with an accent that carried the winds of the desert.

Immediately I was told to remove a "clue" from her top, and reluctantly I leaned forward, removed the paper and unfurled the note.

"You are being watched," it read. And so the adventure began.

That was what a participant's experience was like during Tania El Khoury's one-on-one performance called Jarideh, which means "newspaper" in Lebanese. This 30-minute encounter _ which was part of the British Council's microfestival "Live At The Scala" last weekend _ is unique as both the audience and performer become "partners in crime".

This performance took place in the foyer of the Scala, and it guided me through a series of clues, framed by the knowledge that I was being watched _ by whom I wasn't sure. Dynamic and interactive, I was thrown head first into an elaborately constructed "reality" in which El Khoury interweaves conventions of the crime and thriller genres with real-life stories of the female Lebanese resistance to create a truly captivating piece.

This performance serves to reflect on surveillance society and Middle Eastern "terrorist" stereotypes and is in keeping with microfestival director Andy Fields' goal to "create a little bit of the essence of the sense of spirit, adventure and excitement we create at the Edinburgh festival".

El Khoury explains: "Commissioned by the one-on-one performance festival in London, it's inspired by all the surveillance and CCTV cameras that are found everywhere. It was based on a letter that got sent around to managers all over London. It contained signs to look out for, in order to identify a terrorist, which of course is ridiculous."

El Khoury hopes to raise awareness surrounding terrorist stereotypes and the treatment of those with a Middle Eastern background.

Part of Jarideh's magic is that the participant is unaware they are embroiled in an elaborate theatrical fantasy.

El Khoury usually targets complete strangers and they involuntarily become her "audience".

"This piece has happened in many places such as a cafe, the British museum and art galleries. Places where no one knows it is happening. It becomes a whole paranoia," she explains. This unique situation gives a whole new meaning to the idea of performance art, making the experience genuinely frightening and immersive as it plays out.

"At the end usually the audience has to drop this suspicious bag in front of a CCTV camera linked to the police. It's like a game the people can enjoy, but at the same time they find it scary because they aren't used to doing this kind of stuff," she adds.

Unlike any theatre I'd experienced before, I became the performance. So active was my role that visitors believed I was the leading lady, when really I was following the instructions concealed in the Arabic newspaper before me. Jarideh made for exhilarating theatre as El Khoury hijacked my reality for 30 captivating minutes. I found myself unexpectedly taking centre stage in a noir-esque thriller that capsized traditional roles of audience as spectator.

El Khoury has won the Total Theatre Award for Innovation and the Arches Brick Award for her innate ability to so masterfully blur the line between fantasy and reality. Jarideh was definitely one of the shining stars at the festival.

Those that play together ...

This past weekend the British Council hosted an exciting project in collaboration with Thailand's artistic community. The microfestival, "Live At The Scala", was held at the iconic Scala cinema and shows that creativity is alive and kicking in Bangkok in 2013.

The festival has a unique initiative that aims to spark creativity and enable unprecedented professional networking for the arts and cultural industries in Thailand and the UK.

Simon Farley, the British Council's head of business development, creative industries, said: "This whole project came about from an initial conversation I had with my arts team in London about how we could bring performance art to Thailand in a really accessible way that is relevant to and open to everyone."

Through this event, the British Council _ the UK's international organisation for cultural relations _ hoped to highlight the best of British contemporary performance art, such as the Forest Fringe collective, whilst providing a platform for local Thai artists, such as those from B-Floor and Messy, to perform.

Founded in Edinburgh in 2007, Forest Fringe has built a strong reputation as a cutting-edge performance group characterised by their daring and unconventional aesthetic. Their award-winning space at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe has become a popular destination for artists and audiences looking for more quirky and eccentric examples of live performance.

The microfestival showcase was outstanding in the way it enabled audiences to actively interact and engage with a range of works within the interesting architectural space of the Scala.

"The artistic talent represents some of the best contemporary new performers from the UK, and is a great example of the priority we place on the value of arts and cultural exchange between the UK and Thailand," said Farley. Notable performances included that of Dickie Beau, whose erotically infused drag performance was at times uncomfortably explicit and yet deeply nostalgic in its lament for lost relationships. By drawing upon the drag tradition of lip-synching, Beau spookily channelled forgotten voices to deliver a startling yet unequivocally poignant piece.

The microfestival is the tip of the iceberg in terms of a jam-packed year of artistic collaboration between Thailand and the UK. Another major upcoming UK-Thai arts project is Benjamin Britten's opera A Midsummer Night's Dream. This performance will further demonstrate the successful creative partnership between Grand Opera Thailand and the European Chamber Opera.

It will take place at Aksra Theatre from March 28-30.

About the author

Writer: Olivia Caisley