Standby for Tape Back-Up (Edinburgh Fringe)

A compelling study of synchronicity from writer and performer Ross Sutherland

Ross Sutherland
Ross Sutherland

Our minds are adept at finding meaning in patterns. Like constellations in the night sky, we draw pictures from the information that dots its way through our lives. It is this process and the impact it has on our understanding of the world that writer and performer Ross Sutherland is interested in exploring in his latest show, at the same time as rewinding and replaying his own processes of grief.

Of course, in the modern world the information that we automatically connect and interpret has multiplied exponentially. Media now seeps into our lives constantly, forming an influence that is central to Sutherland’s show. The whole piece is built around a single videotape that used to belong to Sutherland’s grandfather and has fallen into Sutherland’s hands following his death. On it are the scraps of footage that make up Sutherland’s childhood, messily mashed together over a period of several years. The show is an attempt to recover that childhood – to hit rewind – and to regain a connection with Sutherland’s deceased grandfather in the process.

Sutherland does this through a compelling game, one that involves rewatching the same piece of footage – be it from Ghostbusters or The Crystal Maze – and finding moments of significance and synchronicity. Isolated and juxtaposed with one another, these little snippets of television change their form. The opening credits of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air contain a whole world of new meaning and a fumbled gameshow task takes on the character of a tragic allegory.

The writing, as one would expect from Sutherland, is poetic and multi-layered, but it’s the power of his delivery that really elevates it. The rhythm of Sutherland’s speech is carefully modulated in response to the footage playing, with an oddly hypnotic effect. The deliberately visible use of the now outdated videotape technology, meanwhile, gives the piece a poignantly ephemeral feel. Eventually, we know, this footage will fade, leaving only the lines Sutherland has drawn to connect the dots.

Standby for Tape Back-Up runs at Summerhall until 24 August.