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York Theatre Royal, York  

Instructions for Border Crossing
3.0Reviewer's Rating

Instructions for Border Crossing is a unique experience. It is a performance that depends to some degree on the audience’s engagement with the lone performer (writer, Daniel Bye). With relaxed charm and casual confidence, Bye achieves this engagement easily: inviting members of the audience to join him on stage to play jenga and discuss their experiences of fear, courage, positivity and tenacity, Bye skilfully incorporates each individual’s musings into the segments of the show. Bye invites mass (optional) participation by having the audience read the lines of different characters at different points, rendering it impossible to feel able to disengage oneself from the scenes set and the integral theme of the performance: how readily we adhere to our world’s system of maintaining borders, unaware or willingly ignorant of the injustice inherent within it.

Bye proves an enthralling storyteller, perfectly delivering bursts of the performance’s narrative about a young girl who attempts to sneak back into Britain in an act of defiance against the border system. Unfortunately, despite Bye’s powerful and atmospheric narration, the storyline is left somewhat unclear, divided as it is between Bye’s monologues and sections of audience participation. The girl and her plight are connected to the work of the activist-artist Ed Shorter, whom our narrator tells us provided the basis for the show. Bye does an excellent job of blending the narrator’s considerations of Shorter’s principles with the interaction with the audience, yet the narrative parts feel somewhat out of place, telling an intriguing but somewhat disjointed story. Concluding the show with a narrative segment, Bye delivers this final section with fantastic dramatic energy, bringing the imagery of the last lines to life. Dramatic as it is, the conclusion ends the show on a strikingly different tone to that of the majority of the performance, a shift that, whilst handled perfectly, feels a little unnatural.

Bye’s performance is faultless, bouncing off the ad-libs and comments of the audience with ease to deliver this show with control and confidence. His calls on the audience to participate are casual and appealing, and his relaxed charm puts his volunteers at ease. Those who are less inclined towards audience participation will be glad to know that you won’t be picked on at random or expected to do anything you don’t want to. Although the participation got off to a tentative start on the night I attended, Bye’s invitation was calmly encouraging, and it was not long before participation picked up.

Instructions for Border Crossing provides a thoroughly engaging evening of theatre. Packing a range of content into 75 minutes, it is, at times, a dizzyingly thought-provoking experience. Not only does it call upon us to consider our attachment to the borders of our world, but it challenges us to considers the boundaries of performance itself. Imaginative, captivating, and, at times, overwhelming, Instructions for Border Crossing is an impressive piece of theatre.

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