Edinburgh International Festival
15:00 25 & 26 August / 20:00 22-25 August (run ends 26 August)
**** (4 stars)
A dark stage: a construction light comes on, blinding us: a man walks across the stage towards it, stopping to look over his shoulder at us…and the show begins. He unfolds a wooden frame and stretches plastic sheeting across it. The frame is put upright in the empty stage, moved sideways – and there is a bed where no bed was before. The man undresses, ready for bed – stopping to look out at us as her removes first his shirt and then his trousers. He gets into bed, struggles with the bedcover: suddenly he’s disappeared and there’s someone else instead. This person gets out of bed, and exits by a door which has suddenly become visible: when it re-opens, someone else enters: and the cycle goes round of bed, room, door, man, older woman, young woman and boy appearing and disappearing ‘as if by magic’.
A workman in a boiler suit enters, and a house begins to be built: people bring in furniture and fittings, plug in appliances, start the busyness of living, moving around and among each other in an intricately choreographed dance through the rooms of the house, which change their furniture and fittings as frequently as the actors changed their costumes, weaving many separate lives into a multi-coloured tapestry of increasing complexity.
The young boy looks out into the audience and goes down steps into the stalls, bringing an audience member back with him: more and more people are invited into the party that’s begun on stage. Weirder and weirder characters appear – a penguin, a Viking, Santa Claus, a blue penguin – a baby arrives, a couple get married, someone dies and there is a wade. At some stage a five piece street band [including sousaphone] come on stage, and later appear in the stage boxes. Lights are strung across the stage and into the auditorium, people on the front row of the stalls are invited to share some of the red wine that appears to be flowing continuously and the mayhem Increases. Throughout the performance a white-suited singer strolls on and off stage, playing autoharp, guitar and mouth-organ or ukulele: the words of his songs may have been significant, or they may have been pseudobabble, but there was so much going on all the time that the words simply became part of the endless kaleidoscope of happenings.
Up to this point, things were going well – but in the final part of the show two of the audience members were talking about their first memories of home – and this is when I felt the show started to sag a little. The house was slowly deconstructed around those people still on stage: furniture was piled up, things were put away in boxes and left at the front of the stage, the boiler-suited workmen reappeared and started re-erecting the plastic sheets. Slowly the house emptied of people and things, until it was left an empty shell, with the plastic sheets wafting in the wind as the last person left the stage and the lights went out.
Someone on the bus was saying “it’s the most unusual show I’ve ever seen”: there was much loud applause at the end. Many of the ‘magical’ transformations were impressive, and the complex choreography was excellent – but although the piece was interesting, it didn’t enthrall me. A couple of hours passed pleasantly, with much to enjoy, a very talented and energetic cast, and creative use of ‘ordinary people’ who entered enthusiastically into the spirit of the piece.