‘European Freaks’ review – Futuristic EU redesign malfunctions

Hungary’s Studio AKT invites a focus group to create an ‘EU 2.0’ in an imaginative but inconclusive ideas session – ★★★

In the time of such political inaction over Brexit, Voila! Festival’s European Freaks offers a wild solution: for the general public to build a new European Union for themselves.

The ensemble – and our hosts – are four humanoid robots, their movements either jolty and stereotypical, or frantic and clumsy (with one actor keen to dive to the floor at any available opportunity). They excel with their uncomfortable, confusing and exaggerative physical theatre, in a way which – though at times disengaging – still leaves a sense of intrigue for the completed project.

Their work – or rather, the focus group’s – is split into several chapters. Their tasks are mainly comedic and nonsensical, from changing the EU anthem (our group chose fast drum-and-bass) to creating a new flag (which, rather ironically, was changed to a ring of unicorns). Unlike a typical focus group, however, this one isn’t productive, generating only a few laughs as opposed to any elaborate argument.

The closest activity to that is one where two members shares a series of personal anecdotes relating to manipulation and prejudice, their stories humorously illustrated behind them in real-time. At each point, we are asked to decide who is the most anti-democratic or corrupt – terms often attributed to the EU by Eurosceptics.

If the point being made is that we’re guilty of what we accuse the bloc of being, then the ‘we’re both as bad as each other’ argument isn’t the most erudite of takes. In the lengthy, 80-minute production, it’s unclear if the artificially enthusiastic robots are satirising EU federalism, or trying to view Brexit from a new personal perspective.

So of course, the play asks many questions about ourselves and the European Union – a lot of them surprisingly new ones in what is already an exhausted debate – but leaving the audience to answer them doesn’t feel as original or introspective. It may not have been the company’s intention, but European Freaks‘ staggered nature suggests that not even the public can solve the big Brexit question at its heart.

European Freaks played at Rich Mix on 9 and 10 November. It is part of Viola! Europe Festival, which runs until 17 November.

Production Images: STUDIO AKT.

Disclaimer: I was invited to watch European Freaks for free in exchange for a review of the performance as a member of the press. I did not receive payment for this review and all opinions stated are honest and my own.

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