Manchester Theatre Awards

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Instructions for Border Crossing (Orbit Festival)

Daniel Bye
ARC Stockton
HOME, Manchester
05 October 2017 to 07 October 2017

Instructions for Border Crossing is a highly disparate piece merging elements of performance art, dramatic monologue, lecture, and audience involvement. Writer and performer by Daniel Bye explains that the show is an effort to promote the extreme theories of a (fictional) performance artist who regarded any type of border, whether physical ones between countries or emotional ones between individuals, as forms of fascism. He regards it as the duty of individuals to try and disrupt and cross these borders with absurdist acts of civil disobedience.  

The centrepiece of Instructions for Border Crossing is Bye’s proposals for acts of civil disobedience, referred to as ‘instructions’, which are intended to frustrate those who are trying to maintain the borders. These include releasing cats to distract the guards at the border control and exploiting the confusion to smash through the floor to plant seeds. This serves to illustrate the absurdity of the Kafkaesque bureaucracy involved but at times amounts to little more than gain-saying or repeating statements on a loop.  

There is a high level of audience involvement with patrons being invited on-stage to discuss their fears, the ways in which they cope with anxiety, whether they take a positive viewpoint on life and their tenacity. At the end of each chat Bye switches from interviewer to actor and performs dramatic monologues illustrating the horrors of living under, and the courage needed to challenge, a totalitarian system.  The monologues form a storyline concerning a pre-teen attempting to follow the extreme doctrines of the fictional performance artist but the story is so loose it is hard to see if it ever reaches a conclusion.

Bye constantly emphasises that involvement is voluntary but that doesn’t stop him adopting the style of a weary schoolteacher and announcing the play will not end until someone is willing to join him on stage.

The stop-start nature of the piece - that jumps from lecture to discussion to monologue - makes it hard to form an emotional connection to Instructions for Border Crossing. Director Alex Swift uses the disjointed atmosphere to an advantage by developing a feeling of unease.  The strain of resisting totalitarianism becomes apparent as, when Bye switches to monologue, the theatre darkens and the mood becomes Gothic.

Instructions for Border Crossing is an intriguing piece but one cannot help but feel it is a little dated. Real life seems to have caught up with the absurdist approach Daniel Bye recommends. Comedians like Mark Thomas make acts of civil disobedience part of their routines and a few days ago, and just around the corner from HOME, a prankster sneaked into a political conference and handed the Prime Minister a P45. 

Instructions for Border Crossing is part of the ORBIT Festival further details of which can be found at:  https://homemcr.org/event/orbit-2017

Reviewer: David Cunningham