Concerned Others

Aug 11 2023 | By More

★★★★☆      Profound impact

Summerhall (Venue 26): Fri 4 – Mon 28 Aug
Review by Allan Wilson

Tortoise in a Nutshell’s new verbatim documentary, Concerned Others, at Summerhall all Fringe, uses puppets and animation rather than actors to bring its script to life.

Concerned Others is a documentary examination of Scotland’s massive drug and substance abuse problems, rather than a traditional play, but probably has at least as big an impact on the audience as a powerful drama with a focus on individual characters.

Alex Bird in Concerned Others Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

The extent of the problem is highlighted by Scottish Government statistics, suggesting that Scotland has a far higher rate of problem drug use than England and other European countries. There were 1,330 drug misuse deaths in Scotland in 2021. This was a marginal decrease compared with the record high of 2020, but is still 4.6 times as many deaths as in 2000.

The production uses verbatim recordings of people who use drugs, their family members, medical staff, police, support workers and others with an interest. The text of the recordings is projected onto screens, while voice-overs are provided for statistics and other information that is shown.

recurring motif

Concerned Others opens with deviser and performer Alex Bird standing at a crescent-shaped table making a series of rapid individual sketches of a running man, which, combined and projected as an animation introduces a recurring motif for the piece.

As the presentation progresses, Bird adds shoebox style installations to the table, representing hospitals, wards, support facilities, people’s homes, all accompanied by tiny figurines, representing those involved. A hand-held camera is used to project these images onto a screen. Masks and a puppet are introduced later.

Alex Bird in Concerned Others Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

Some disturbing stories are revealed through the verbatim recordings: the eight-year-old child of an addict subjected to sexual abuse; a doctor struggling to continue with her work after becoming addicted to alcohol; a man who attempted suicide sent home in hospital pyjamas and wet socks to an empty house, having sold all his possessions.

There is a common theme to much of this, which a politician might call a radical agenda, but which is at the heart of what is coming from the interviewees.


When doctors think of their patients in terms of numbers and no longer care about individual patients and when drug abuse is viewed as a medical problem not a social one, created by poor housing and limited opportunities, then the view of people involved is that there needs to be a radical solution. However there is little political will to do anything radical.

The producers recognise that our addictions are not just to illicit drugs. There are constant reminders about alcohol: through advertising, being featured in almost every popular television program and even in streets littered with empty beer cans and wine bottles. Too many people are still “gagging to get fucked up again” on a Friday evening. They also touch on our addiction to coffee.

Concerned Others Set. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

The creative team of composer Jim Harbourne, AV designer Lewis Den Hertog and lighting designer Andrew Gannon have combined their skills to produce some stunning effects, particularly in the closing sequence where the table top becomes a background for Bird to become the running man and then silhouetted against an aurora lit sky.

Unlike many Fringe shows that have people coming out, saying “that was good – what’s next?”, Concerned Others has a profound impact on audiences inviting them to reflect on their own behaviour and that of their friends. QR codes are on display at the exits with links to help and advice for people who may want to change their behaviour.

Tortoise in a Nutshell is also holding a panel discussion around Concerned Others’ exploration of substance dependency and drug related deaths in Scotland. It will take place on Saturday 19 August at the Leaf & Bean Deli Cafe Marchmont, 1a Marchmont Crescent, EH9 1HN at 10.30am. The event is free but ticketed.

Running time: 45 minutes (no interval)
Summerhall (Demonstration Room, 1 Summerhall (Venue 26)
Wednesday 2 – Sunday 27 August (not 14, 21)
Daily: 2.45pm (not Mon 14 and 21)
Tickets and details: Book here. Book here

Panel discussion
Leaf & Bean Deli Cafe Marchmont, 1a Marchmont Crescent, EH9 1HN
Saturday 19 August 2023
Morning: 10.30 (1 hour)
The panel discussion will explore the research and creation of Concerned Others and the aims to challenge stigma and raise awareness around addiction and drug related death in Scotland. The panel includes lead artist Alex Bird, along with interview participants whose contributions and voiced helped to create the production.
Tickets (free) and details: Book here.

Tortoise in a Nutshell links and resources

Twitter: @tortoiseinanut

Facebook: @tortoiseinanutshell

Instagram: @tortoiseinanutshell


Resources: Exploring Stigma and the Power of Kindness – SFAD


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Comments are closed.