Far away from the fray of the Fringe is a little refuge in the gentle hands of performer Ian Cameron. He waits for you in the grounds of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art for A Walk at the Edge of the World. He is a distant figure with an orange umbrella standing, most appropriately, near Charles Jencks’s land art Landform. You are standing on the steps of the Gallery being given quiet health and safety instructions and a badge. It’s been a rush to get here. Of course it’s raining and you’re kitted out for it. You walk towards the figures forming a ragged circle around Cameron who is wearing a grey overcoat and brown corduroy trousers. He checks you’re present and listening, then tells you about his recent hip operation that has caused him to have to learn to walk again and how he dreamed of walking while he was in hospital having his operation.
You are then invited to accompany him on a walk in silence and advised to give your senses full freedom. It’s a long focusing exercise that gradually resembles a short pilgrimage. Time does a strange thing while you walk. The terrain is moderately challenging in the rain, drawing you away from the gallery, across the road where you are conscious of traffic noise. Then you go down some steps and along the river, over bridges, through archways and eventually up steep steps towards the site of the performance, a quiet place away from the main gallery. It’s Sunday so it feels like going to church. The physical act of walking has succeeded in focusing the mind and helps to make you responsible for your experience of this piece.
You cross the threshold that becomes the second beginning of the piece. You enter the performance space, time to take off wet clothes and find a seat. At this moment of intermission you become part of a community and get to see again who else has come on this journey you shared as one within a silent community of walkers.
What then transpires is an illustrated talk – like any gallery or educational talk in a public space that might relate to an experience you have just had. Cameron breaks the silence in a change of gear, more upbeat. The talk is accompanied by Cameron’s/the character/the guide’s slide show. We don’t know his name but through his talk we begin to learn about his life, in particular his mother and father’s religious fervour, his mother’s love of walking, and the strange unspoken tensions that lie within his family. So for 45 minutes we roam through terrain trodden by our guide and what emerges are fragments of a story about this very lonely man who has walked alone it seems almost everywhere. He tells us that he might have walked to China at the time when Britain was attached to the continent. We are a quiet attentive audience and it is quite lovely to witness the subtle expansion of our vision as the simple slide show crossfades back and forth between his screen and a larger screen, which gives a different scale to the material shared with us. Unfortunately the white wall of the gallery space tends to wash some of the clarity of this, which is more tangible on the show’s trailer.
One senses mostly an awkwardness in this enthusiast’s sharing of his journeys fuelled by an almost obsessive need to unravel and trace the roots and journeys within his family history, an obsession fed perhaps by an unspoken and knotted grief at the loss of his mother.
In terms of form, Magnetic North, a company known for work that seeks to place the writer at the centre of the play-making process, is asking bold questions about the nature of theatre and A Walk at the Edge of the World also asks questions about narrative and truth. Is what we hear Cameron’s story? Whose story, or stories are these and how have they come together? Director and writer Nicholas Bone keeps the form loose and open. You can make of it what you want: these narrative sequences, non-sequiturs, dead ends, and short cuts may trigger associations and memories for its visitors/audience. This is work so far away from the sound bites and bold summaries typical of the Fringe. Both the walk and the talk offer a chance to quieten the mind and consider the proposition that sharing the life of another human being may consist in wandering through otherwise overlooked detail and irregular but infinitely rich pathways.