Huxley’s Lab brings together Grid Iron and Lung Ha’s theatre companies
Two of Scotland’s groundbreaking theatre companies have teamed up to create a frightening vision of the future, as Kelly Apter discovers
Designer babies, excessive recreational drug use and rampant promiscuity may seem like very modern concerns, but in 1932 Aldous Huxley had them all covered. His chilling science fiction novel, Brave New World depicted a time when all humans are made to order, everyone is kept ‘happy’ by drugs and casual sex is de rigueur.
Inspired by Huxley’s satirical fiction, two of Scotland’s most groundbreaking theatre companies have joined forces to create a world where we’re quite literally spoiled for choice. Set in the University of Edinburgh’s shiny new Informatics Forum, Huxley’s Lab features four actors from site-specific specialists Grid Iron, four core members of inclusive theatre company Lung Ha’s, and a supporting cast of 22, also drawn from the Lung Ha’s team.
‘It’s not an adaptation of Huxley’s book,’ explains Grid Iron’s artistic director Ben Harrison. ‘It was just the starting point. When the two companies decided to work together, we wanted to do something that was relevant to the concerns of the Lung Ha’s members. And if you follow the Huxley Way, as we call it in the show, then in 20 years time, none of the members of Lung Ha’s would exist. So it’s pretty heartfelt.’
A promenade performance taking place in five locations on three different levels of the Informatics Forum (including the roof) the show explores the possibilities of covert eugenics. Scientists beaver away in their quest to create the perfect human being, experimenting on everyone from themselves to the ‘naturals’ who reside on the top of the building.
‘Even though Huxley’s world is science fiction, and it hasn’t happened in exactly the way the book describes, what’s happening right now is in a way more scary,’ says Maria Oller, artistic director of Lung Ha’s, ‘because it’s happening under the banner of research, to help people and eliminate diseases before you are born. Which sounds okay, but that could lead to two different types of people – the ones who are born with defects in a natural way, and the ones who are perfectly made. And if you are designed, and your parents expect you to be perfect, can you still be given unconditional love?’
Opened in 2008, the award-winning Informatics Forum is home to some of the University’s most pioneering research. As the audience travels around the building, academics working on artificial intelligence, neuroscience and a plethora of other subjects headlining 21st century science will be clearly visible, making it the ideal choice for the show.
‘We should probably make clear that nothing in the show is actually happening in the Informatics Building in reality,’ laughs Harrison. ‘But we wanted to do it in a cutting edge, scientific building and the idea of a new build was very attractive to us – something clean, uncluttered, very modern and perfect.’
Having previously staged shows in such diverse locations as a swing park, pub and airport, this latest site-specific venture is all in a day’s work for Grid Iron. For Lung Ha’s, however, it’s a whole new adventure. ‘It’s nice for us to get out of the theatre,’ says Oller, ‘and be out in society. Because disability theatre can so easily be about staying in your little group and having a disability audience come to watch you. So for Lung Ha’s to have the opportunity to do a site-specific show is absolutely wonderful.’
Huxley’s Lab, Informatics Forum, University of Edinburgh, Thu 1–Thu 8 Apr (not 4).