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The War

King's Theatre, Edinburgh
Five stars
The crackle of a wind-up gramophone at the opening of this epic
evocation of war's mighty blast can only hint at what follows over the
next two and a half hours in this world premiere of Vladimir Pankov's
production for his tellingly named SounDrama Studio. In Paris, 1913, a
group of poets, painters and free-thinking aesthetes are gathered for
Christmas. With storm clouds already gathering, some see the impending
conflict as a a disaster, some as a necessary cleansing, others as an
inspirational romance. It is English painter George, however, who is
killed on the frontline, causing his poet friend Vladimir's intense
mourning. In order to heal, a radical psychiatrist has George's friends
and family role-play Homer's Iliad in order to get to the root of their
own pain.

While all this sounds ennui-laden enough, it is in the telling that
makes Pankov's co-production with Chekhov International Theatre
Festival, based on Richard Aldington's Death of A Hero and Nikolai
Gumilyov's Notes of A Cavalry Officer, so explosive. As George's
soul-sapping decline is unravelled over seventeen scenes, or
'rhapsodies' as they're announced onstage, Pankov's cast of nineteen
navigate their way through a maelstrom of discordant modernist
chorales, strident brass band marches and ancient East European keening
as chandeliers swing, performers are hoisted into the air as they play
their instruments and an entire regiment of great-coats crash down from
above.

Sergei Zemlyansky and Yekaterina Kislova's choreography, Artyom Kim and
Sergey Rodyukov's live score and Maxim Obrezkov's design help make for
a thrillingly urgent theatrical whirlwind that demonstrates exactly how
artistic ideals can be destroyed by war's ugly reality, whatever the
cause.

The Herald, August 11th 2014


ends

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