Review: Wreck the Airline Barrier, Garage venue, Edinburgh

A fantastically well crafted cauldron of dramatic chaos, the aptly named Riot Group’s Wreck the Airline Barrier is possibly the most visceral, disturbing and cerebral piece of theatre you will see on the Fringe this year.

Set on board a troubled passenger flight, this work should finally kill the joke about the lecturer who went to the United States to teach irony as a second language. These young Americans have created an inspired, sinister satire of modern society, a bizarre cross-breed of Franz Kafka and Lenny Bruce. The play positively drips with fear, hatred, self-loathing and alienation.

If that sounds like an emotional rollercoaster ride, that is because it is. The labyrinthine script of glass-sharp fragments of language and the violently unleashed performances are simply incendiary.

You can sit back, but I defy you to make yourself comfortable as the Riot Group provides you with your “emergency entertainment.” For first-class passengers there is, in addition to sexual favours from the cabin crew, a short talk on the social detritus responsible for the moral degradation that is “Mercedes-Benz defacement.” Lesser human beings must make do with the in -flight magazines which might just change their world view. Combined with casual Hitler admiration, latent white supremacism and super-Freudian sexual anxieties, we have well and truly arrived in the realm of the very darkest humour.

The central characters, although they function more as the discordant vehicles of the abstract plays of Gertrude Stein than as personalities, are described as “motivational speakers”, but you will be too disquieted by what is motivating them to care what that means. This is genuinely avant-garde theatre, a modern stage equivalent of Luis Bunuel and Salvador Dali’s film Un Chien Andalou, a metaphorical razor across your dramatic eye.

The performers and writer prefer to remain anonymous. This, like so much else in the work, ties their extraordinary live art to the experimental theatre of the Twenties and Thirties; I almost expected to be handed a Futurist manifesto as I left.

As should be clear by now, this play will be simply too weird and too explosive (you might be hit by a flying expletive) for some. An acquired taste it may be, but Wreck the Airline Barrier is one of the most excoriating plays this critic has seen in a long time, truly an exhilarating and terrifying powerhouse of dramatic inventiveness.

This review was originally published in The Scotsman on 17 August 1999

© Mark Brown


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