If there are U-Pick strawberry fields and U-Cut Christmas tree farms, Reformation9 is U-Do performance art. It’s interactive theater without a clear performer-spectator relationship—a murkiness that extends to its creators’ identities.
Performed as a one-night stint at the offshoot Forest Fringe festival, Reformation9 (paging the Beatles) is the work of “Luther & Bockelson.” Googling "Luther & Bockelson" is a fool’s errand. The performance duo, evidently from Germany, have no website. Elsewhere, you find loud words that say little: “iconoclastic,” “lunatic,” “radical,” “infamous.” Guardian theater critic Lyn Gardner apparently once called them “splendidly insane” or “sublimely insane”—as happens with shady figures, sources disagree. The German-language bowels of the Internet offer up little help. (Their individual names might offer clues. Luther was—duh—the father of the Protestant Reformation, while Bockelson is another name for John of Leiden, who spearheaded his own religious uprising in Münster.)
The show bills itself as a “rebellion party,” and it begins—as all proper rebellions do, especially those in order-loving Teutonic lands—with a manifesto. (Alert: If Reformation9 is revived, and you’re reading this before seeing it, you probably want to stop here.) The manifesto has nine points. Nine lovely, ferocious points (and one silent one, equally lovely and ferocious), read by Forest Fringe co-founder Andy Field. From the first one—which makes clear that we, the audience, have brought this upon ourselves—to the images of “conceited, war-wounded, iron-curtained, gothic-spired, multilingual, racist Europe,” it’s a vibrant piece of writing, clear in its aim to light fires under audience members’ very comfortable butts. (Read the whole thing here.)
Exactly what happens after that depends on the whims of those who possess those bums, and how they respond to the contents of the manila envelopes placed on various seats. These items—a disposable camera, a bear mask, a harmonica, a microphone, a copy of Anna Karenina—are what help turn Reformation9 into a party, and potentially a very loud and messy one.
Having just arrived in the U.K. after five months in Germany, it’s funny to read reviews of Reformation9 that describe it as a very German piece of theater. (The incomparable Megan Vaughan, especially, and Andrew Haydon a bit.) Because I didn’t see it as particularly German. OK, it’s not unGerman. The manifesto claims to have been translated from the German, and there’s plenty in it about the differences between the U.K and “real” Europe: their cultures of resistance, their histories of destruction. And yes, there’s a live video feed, and the opportunity for chaotic and atonal music, and two lemons, barbed wire, vast quantities of baby powder, and bottles of alcohol. All things beloved on German stages. But in its willfully anarchic, kitchen-sink aesthetic—in its eagerness to let things actually get messy, rather than giving the mere appearance of being messy—I was more reminded of choreographer Keith Hennessy and his various Bay Area adherents. I especially had to think of the Champagne-soaked slip ‘n’ slides of Turbulence—just a little more loving, a little less shrill, and without a declamatory hippie overlord on a swinging ladder. And instead with a bespectacled Field in an Interflug T-shirt (oh, sweet Ostalgie). But also without any nudity, which is enough to make clear this isn’t a real piece of German theater (or a real Hennessy, for that matter).
Or maybe these questions about whether it feels German are useless. And c’mon, am I equipped to answer after less than half a year in Berlin? Uh, no. And I’m definitely not equipped to compare it to other British theater.
All (or none) of which is to say that it was an ideal way to toss myself into Edinburgh. Bring on the revolution. Or the reformation. Or at least the rest of Fringe.