Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: En Route, Traverse Theatre

Review: En Route, Traverse Theatre

Published on Culture Wars, 24.08.2010

Edinburgh, for me, is covered in numbers. Those of us that migrate here annually know the city as it appears on the map at the back of the Fringe Programme. We collect in certain spots and plot our dashes between venues, sticking to well-trodden paths, barely looking beyond the familiar markers of the festival. We know the city only by the circulation system that connects the festival.

Much of the joy of En Route, a playful, pensive audiotour through Edinburgh’s public spaces, comes from going off-piste and discovering the innards of the city. We’re led through piss-stained alleys into residential estates, winding through shopping centres, train stations and multi-storey car parks. We see the city from unfamiliar angles. We see it as a city, rather than a framework.

What about local audiences; those already familiar with these spaces? Presumably it offers the opportunity to see it afresh, as if for the first time. We know the form can transform even the habitual of environments, by placing a frame around them, by changing the way we look. En Route, with its soundtrack of atmospheric accompaniments, achieves that filmic experience, whereby you feel yourself as both protagonist and cameraman. But we know the form can do that. So, frequently, do iPods that shuffle as you scuttle.

What En Route adds to the form is freedom. This, it reinforces, is your time. It may have plotted a course, but it lets you find your own within it. Frequently we get destinations rather than handholding guidance every step of the way. Here and there, we follow arrows chalked in the gutter, invisible outside of this particular frequency. There’s no prodding as to where to look and what to see, just an invitation to see.

And also to be seen. With text messages landing with split-second precision and gentle abductions along the way, you’re always aware of the benign overseeing presence behind your walk. It’s a safe experience, buffered at the edges and, therefore, seemingly limitless. This is no mere monorail tour.

There are some stunning vantage points and some intriguing moments within En Route. The sense you get of Edinburgh as a particular and a universal, the deeper exploration of what cities are for and how they function, is strong. But, pleasant though the experience is, solidly constructed and well-conceived, it offers very little that this kind of work hasn’t already achieved. In lacking a novel twist, En Route seems content with the form as it is. Increasingly, however, we need more than just another audiotour of just another city.


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