WATERLOO at Edinburgh Festival Fringe
“Batten’s performance style is confessional. It’s playful. And also cruel. These shifts can be breath-taking”
Bron Batten’s Waterloo, part of the UK/Australia season 2021/22 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, is a love story. It is also a story about war. Not any war in particular, but the culture of war, and the kinds of men who get sucked into it. Batten meets one of these men in 2015 in Paris in what starts out as a casual date. Her experience of the ensuing relationship becomes something much more intense. Waterloo is the story of that relationship, and what it taught Batten about a man attracted to a soldier’s life. By turns funny, shocking, and brutally honest, Batten’s one woman performance is about meeting her Waterloo, and asking some hard questions about the nature of combat. In love, and in war.
The story of the relationship is predictable. A man and a woman meet, enjoy an immediate connection, mostly based on sex, and then part for a while. But they remain in contact. Batten becomes fascinated by this man and what she can discover about his life, whom she nicknames “Sergeant Troy” after Bathsheba’s lover in Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd. Batten’s lover has been on battlefields. He has killed people, and is clearly committed to his chosen career. His work has inevitably given him PTSD—he doesn’t really sleep anymore. Batten illustrates these discoveries on stage, and in imaginative ways. She begins Waterloo with the commonplace act of eating an apple as she enters. Such a start contrasts vividly with the acts of violence she enacts—and not just against props on stage. Even the games she provides, in which audience members improvise answers for the absent lover, or quizzes enquiring about our own susceptibilities to authoritarianism, can feel like acts of violence. This is not accidental.
Batten’s performance style is confessional. It’s playful. And also cruel. These shifts can be breath-taking. It’s part of breaking us down. Batten is testing our capacity for violence, and for following orders. It’s all part of turning us into her shock troops—an audience ready for Waterloo. But in case you feel that this show is all about getting us out of our comfort zones, it’s also like going out on a fascinating date. The kind of date Batten describes at the start of the show. Yes, it’s a date that takes unexpected turns, and ends up being a lot more than you bargained for. And as Batten tells her story, you get the sense that her lover ends up feeling much the same way.
To describe Waterloo in detail would be to give away the surprises. Waterloo’s strength, and sometimes its weakness, is that it relies on Batten’s ability to bond with her audience. The toys, the games, the quizzes —these can distract if you’re not paying attention to what Batten is really trying to say. Waterloo requires the kind of attention that doesn’t let up, and that can feel like an act of brutality all by itself. But that’s Batten’s point. On one level Waterloo is a story about violence, but it’s also a philosophical enquiry about war, examined through the lens of love. As Batten leads us through the unfamiliar places on her battlefield, our perspective shifts.
Batten wants us to feel all the discomfort, as well as the passion she feels, of getting too close to war. She invites us along for the painful, as well as educational, experience. But Batten doesn’t lose the ability to empathize with her soldier, either. Or to show how war, once experienced, ever really goes away for the people who experience it. Waterloo is an original take on a difficult subject. It’s the kind of show that gets under your skin, and returns to haunt you. Just as intended.
Reviewed 6th August 2022
by Dominica Plummer
Photography by Theresa Harrison
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