Heart-rending accounts of addiction are diluted by uninspired direction in Outside Edge’s Check-in/Check-out.
With its cast sat in a semicircle and various members (all professional actors) sharing their own experiences with addiction, Outside Edge’s Check-in/Check-out adopts the format of an AA meeting. It’s a configuration we have all seen before in popular culture – but nevertheless, the cast bring a raw, palpable energy to the stage.
They’re not always audible though, which detracts from the performance. Rumbling train sounds are to be absolutely expected and embraced at VAULT Festival, but one would hope that the cast is able to fight against the background noise. After all, lines such as “the only God I knew was RuPaul” deserve to be heard. By contrast, in other moments, the cast shout over each other or cut in a smidgen too early with their cues so lines are lost. Whilst some of these occasions are clearly orchestrated and you perhaps put a couple of other instances down to nerves, the effect is the same: the audience is taken out of what could be a powerful scene.
It’s worth noting that Check-in/Check-out is a result of drama sessions for recovering addicts. The company is comprised of individuals who have suffered through, and survived, some form of substance abuse – and we consequently are able to see some truly harrowing moments of vulnerability. For example, one company member talks about his journey to taking the “three-step prayer” with such poignancy that his account becomes haunting. Where the company shines is being able to share raw experiences without sentimentalising or moralising their stories. A scene where the cast look at an imaginary gallery full of pictures of their lowest moments, for example, demonstrates that they are able to detach themselves just enough that the audience can explore the desperate actions one can undertake whilst in the throes of addiction.
In a scene where the cast compare how many times each person has ‘followed’ steps or been admitted into rehab, we are confronted with the absurdity of expecting a one-size-fits-all program to steer every addict to recovery. After all, the cast is comprised of such different people from very contrasting walks of life – yet they were all connected by this common ground. Perhaps it’s this commonality that is responsible for the strong camaraderie between its members, which is a delight to see. But this is not enough to bring more energy to the performance. The transitions are clunky and frequent.
Often, it’s difficult to determine what purpose Check-in/Check-out‘s transitions serve. In one, the cast dance onstage as a member roams the audience offering sweets – except it lasts entirely too long and seemingly leads to little. In another, the cast sing Amy Winehouse’s ‘Rehab’ but it feels rather on the nose – even with one very talented cast member taking the lead with the singing. One of the final scenes takes place on the floor with the cast writing in chalk, but not all of the audience is able to see what is being written. All of these actions feel like tools utilised during the devising process, which perhaps didn’t need to make it into the final product. Much like scaffolding becomes redundant once the building is complete, these theatrical devices feel a little superfluous.
Whilst the performances are far from perfect, the cast of Check-in/Check-out perform with such arresting candour for transitory moments that one almost forgets about the laboured pace of the show. Their experiences speak for themselves – it’s just everything else weighs down their performances.