ViewMaster at Summerhall is a gem of a show that has the ability to cleanse the most jaded of palates.
This is an experience for one audience member at a time, and it is all over in a quarter of an hour. You are led upstairs and asked to fill in a questionnaire, on the basis of which one of a selection of performances is chosen for you. This features the poetry of Ryan van Winkle, the music of Dan Gorman, Faith Eliott’s set and, as the title suggests, a View-Master.
For those who do not remember, a View-Master was a small plastic device which created a ‘3D’ effect by superimposing one flat image over another. A technique so influential it still appears to be used by blockbuster Hollywood movies.
It is difficult to explain what makes the whole thing so impressive – and, since someone else’s ‘journey’ may be to an entirely different place, perhaps not that useful anyway. Suffice it to say that the combination of images, sound, and words (which may or may not have an obvious connection to the pictures) is direct without being forceful. The closest comparison might be the films of Chris Marker, notably Sans Soleil with its ruminations on memory and travel.
an immersive, dreamlike experience
You feel that you are responding to memories you never had, that there is something inexpressibly warm, a thought that is slightly troubling without actually being a worry, nudging at the corners of your awareness. This is an object lesson in how impressive a show can be with the lowest-of-low-tech. A harmonium, some words and a retro plastic toy conjure up an immersive, dreamlike experience that genuinely does feel like a journey.
An accompanying book of the poetry is available (see below). It loses some of its power on the page, but is worth getting for the download code which enables you to get at least some idea of the sounds and visuals of the journeys your answers did not lead to.
This is the very definition of a four-and-a-half star show. To give it five stars when it is so much a miniature would be to crush it under the weight of unrealistic expectations, like dressing a kitten up as a tiger.
Instead, it should be enough to say that a visit is more than recommended.
But don’t go when you are in a hurry to get somewhere else. Instead, choose a slot where you have time to spare afterwards – time to float back down the stairs and sit in the Summerhall courtyard, perhaps sipping on a gin and tonic, while you marvel at how for a few moments everything seems sharper, clearer and fresher.