Edinburgh International Festival 2023 Theatre Review: As Far As Impossible (Lyceum Theatre) ★★★

Captivating verbatim accounts of international humanitarian workers are thoughtfully woven together in this documentary-style theatrical experience.

Natacha Koutchoumov, Baptiste Coustenoble, Beatriz Brás and Adrien Barazzone in As Far As Impossible. Photo Credit: Andrew Perry.

Drawn from interviews with humanitarian workers, and primarily performed and captioned in English and French (with some Portugese), As Far As Impossible examines the dilemmas and motivations of those who work in these dangerous environments. Directed by Tiago Rodrigues, with music by Gabriel Ferrandini, this is a thoughtfully staged and expertly performed piece.

The stories presented are often uncomfortable and painful, yet there is also a surprising amount of humour. Starting slowly, introducing the characters and the world they inhabit, the audience is gradually led to the more harrowing and heart-breaking accounts. Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble and Natacha Koutchoumov are all outstanding in this confronting piece: believable and sincere without a hint of self-pity from the real people they are portraying. The staging is fairly static, and the pacing of the production perhaps too slow at times, yet their individual and collective performances are captivating.

As Far As Impossible. Photo Credit: Andrew Perry.

The “Impossible” in the title represents all of the places these workers are needed, dividing the world into those areas, and the “Possible” where the majority of us reside. This cleverly highlights how easily one can become the other, and keeps the specifics to a minimum. They speak of the contradictions for those doing this type of emotionally taxing work: of being traumatised, but having high job satisfaction; assuming this role to help others, but then individuals abusing their power. There is the difficulty of returning to “normal life”, when family members want a good story from their travels, but then are horrified by the bleakness of the response. The necessary ability to detach yourself when you only have one blood bag and have to calculate which of five children to save.

Ferrandini’s percussive soundtrack is compelling, and his talent without question, however there are two very long solos that do not push the narrative forward or connect to the wider story. It does make you feel uncomfortable, particularly at the very end of the piece – and perhaps this is the purpose – contributing to an increasingly sluggish pace. The stories remain engaging, but the piece begins to feel too long, and some of the power is therefore lost.

Beatriz Brás and Baptiste Coustenoble in As Far As Impossible. Photo Credit: Andrew Perry.

One of the most compelling tales is led by Brás, as she describes a ceasefire to allow the rescue of an injured boy. It is a rare moment where the cast move in consort, and the character’s desire to move slowly to extend the peace, but knowing that time is of the essence, gives a beautiful physical representation of the complexity of their role in these places.

Giving voice to these often unknown, unheralded aid workers and their experiences makes As Far As Impossible a rare and vital work. Although we do not hear the accounts of those receiving aid, one of the stories focusses on local people doing humanitarian work by instinct, and perhaps that hints at the reason these individuals have committed themselves to repeatedly returning to places where few would volunteer to go. Unemotional and unapologetic, this piece never ceases to challenge the audience.

By Deborah Klayman

As Far As Impossible plays the Lyceum Theatre until 14th August 2023.

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