Review: Conspiracy (Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh)

Barrel Organ’s new piece explores the nature of conspiracy theories

© Richard Davenport

Three performers sit behind a desk on the stage. A big whiteboard and nondescript set of curtains rest behind them.

On the whiteboard: the iconic Lunch atop a Skyscraper photo, taken at the height of the Great Depression as the Rockefeller Center is slowly erected in Manhattan. Men are dangling from a steel beam, having a snack. 11 men, to be exact. Some of them carry sandwich cases, but they look empty. One of them carries a bottle, but that's also empty. Only one of them is holding an actual sandwich. Something looks off – the fog is shaped weirdly, the photo isn't attributed to any legitimate photographer. Is there more here than meets the eye?

The cast launches into wild theories, dissecting every element, tying together employment records, birth certificates, other dodgy pics and more as they weave together hamstrung theory after hamstrung theory. Facts become so alternate they look like they've spent a week down Brick Lane.

It isn't hard, early on, to see what the show is aiming at: exploring the innate human desire to find the truth, to uncover or discover the reality hidden from view, and why choosing to believe is an intoxicating prospect. But you don't know why these three performers are so invested, which in turns stops us feeling invested in them and their endeavour. Abstraction begins to feel uninviting. Joining the dots becomes a pointlessly cyclical process, with each conspiracy becoming more preposterous than the last: "The moon. Is a mass grave."

Things unspool rapidly, and the best bits of the show comes when the three performers have a chance to be themselves, injecting some sense of personality into proceedings. A lot of laughs come when Rose Wardlaw starts munching on some packed snacks.

"A story doesn't have to be 100 per cent true to tell you something truthful," we're told. Which is a nice point, but it doesn't feel like it needs an hour to say.