Philadelphia-born Static Assembly describe their show Edison as a genre-bent, divine journey into the world of scientific giants: Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla.
Edison, written by Joshua Logan Walker, presents an intriguing concept: a feud between Edison and Tesla that became one of the largest stand offs in scientific history. In short, the play exposes Edison’s questionable character and aims to shed light on Tesla’s truer genius. As the title of the play suggests, Tesla’s groundbreaking inventions have been sidelined by Edison’s big name. The main plot line being that Edison took advantage of Tesla’s scientific gift and claimed all of the credit for himself. Indeed, Walker presents an intriguing plot that attracts historians and scientists alike. However, the execution of the concept results in a fundamentally incoherent show.
The first and most noticeable issue, which is an inevitable struggle in biopics, is characterisation. The audience attend this show because they are interested in the history and controversy surrounding Edison and Tesla. However, the show left me no more informed on this piece of history. Additionally, when recreating historical figures, it is important to have in-depth characterisation, whether it is for historical accuracy or parody. Examples of the lack of this are Tesla and Mark Twain, neither of whom had particularly entertaining characterisation and could have benefitted from a distinctive persona. Edison, on the other hand, did have clear and bold characterisation, which made him easily the most watchable character. The show would also benefit from revisiting voice, as many lines in the play were lost by lack of projection and clarity.
The strangest aspects of the show are some of the strongest
The story has an interesting vision, but with an execution that needs polishing. There is an ambitious rejection of straightforward storytelling, with the use of interwoven choreography and harmony throughout the show. Streams of golden ribbon, a pigeon-headed woman, and multimedia dramatise history into a psychedelic and absurd drama. The use of golden ribbon is extremely effective in some scenes, such when Edison swims in it to bathe in his fame and glory. However, in other moments, the ribbon seems hinder the actors’ choreography and just makes the set look messy. In addition, one of the biggest faults is the choreography, which needs great improvement. Blocking could be improved, as actors were frequently obscuring the audience’s view. Arguably, it would have been more effective to keep the choreography onstage and make it shorter and snappier. The use of harmony was also hollow, and an additional distraction in the sensory overload.
The greatest, and darkest, moments of the play were textual, especially Edison’s monologue towards the end of the play, exposing his sinister tendencies. The show could have embrace the writing more, as the script was absorbing and seductive. Ultimately, the strangest aspects of the show are some of the strongest, and could have been embraced further. The most obvious example would be the pigeon-headed woman strutting, cooing, and clucking onstage. The use of multimedia was also effective, with cheesy footage of Edison brainwashing his employees: “Welcome to the Edison Electric Light Company! Will you follow the light?” Similarly effective was Edison only being onstage for some of the time, instead weaving in and out of the audience throughout the show, which created an ominous presence of his legacy. In addition to these positives, the tone of patriotism could be enhanced further, adding to the bizarre and absurd mood.
Overall, Edison is a show that presents a great idea, but needs some major polishing.
Edison is playing at the Edinburgh Fringe, tickets can be found here.
Image: Bryan Schall