Eavesdropping from Thick Skin Theatre is a brilliant idea. You download an app to your mobile phone, find Eavesdropping and download it, then head for the Traverse foyer, pop your headphones in and start listening. The play includes directions woven into the dialogue but if you’re puzzled at any point, you can track your progress on the app. The story sees you through a gentle perambulation around the adjacent streets that it suggests will take you something like an hour and ten minutes. For those experiencing any sort of unease about sitting inside with other people for a prolonged period of time, it’s a potentially less intimidating way to experience theatre.
As the title suggests, the play is a series of overheard conversations as you meander. We meet an actress about to go on stage at the Traverse. We follow an usher along Grindlay Street. We encounter a carer, attempting to serve some pills to a client, culminating in a face off with a greyhound. We meet teachers, lovers, artists, witches, writers and wannabes. And we’re served a generous helping of local history on the side. The script by Hannah Lavery and Sarah MacGillivray is amusing, astute, surprising and sometimes touching. Finn Anderson‘s music and sound design is glorious. And when the words sync perfectly with your pace and progress, it’s a marvellous thing.
In the name of full disclosure, I have a terrible sense of direction. The first third of the show worked just as it should but things went very awry around Fountainbridge. I’m not sure if the app is programmed to serve content based on your location or whether it carries on regardless. So I’m not confident that I either heard all of the stories or heard them in the right order. And where the directions work perfectly when you’re where the app expects, when you’re not, it’s tricky to know whether you should listen to it or follow the map. Don’t be deterred by this as it’s most likely user incompetence at play.
So what to take from it? There’s some musing about the purpose of writing – whether a writer writes to be heard (or read) – that could be very meta or could be navel-gazing. And there’s a nice closing piece about all our little individual lives that make up the big, bad, bold and sometimes glorious world we live in. Maybe there’s a missed opportunity to create a narrative that stretches through all the streets. But maybe that would’ve been risky for all the people who get lost. So perhaps this is best seen as a lovely piece of writing that celebrates the teeming hubbub of the city, may take you to streets you’ve never walked before and reminds you all over again that Edinburgh’s a pretty exceptional city.