Thursday, 20 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2015 Theatre Reviews 6 - The History of the World Based on Banalities - Summerhall - Three stars / Light Boxes - Summerhall - Four stars / The Christians - Traverse Theatre - Three stars

A young man plays bat and ball in a messy kitchen at the opening of The History of the World Based on Banalities Johan De Smet and Titus De Voogdt's new play produced by the Koppergeitery company as part of this year's Big in Belgium programme. Without a word being said, notions of velocity and gravity are being proffered up in this most everyday of exercises. When the boy played by De Voogdt starts talking to the audience, about his scientist mother who's lost her bearings through Alzheimer's disease, such a sense of his own isolation sparks up a curiosity that finds voice through a series of free-associating quantum leaps that fall somewhere between alchemy and idealism.

Accompanied by a hooded electric guitarist who skulks behind the fridge freezer twanging out some dust-bowl laden dirges, De Voogdt's character acts like he's home alone as he embraces new liberties en route to reclaiming his affinity with his mother from the totems left behind even as she slips further away from him. It's a deceptively poignant piece possessed with low-key depth accentuated by De Voogdt's perennially optimistic seeker after truth.

Runs until August 14

It is the bleakest of mid-winters in Light Boxes, Finn den Hertog's impressionistic version of Shane Jones' already fantastical novel, rendered here in Den Hertog's own production for site-specific auteurs Grid Iron as the grimmest of twenty-first century fairytales. Here the month of February has taken over, and even paper aeroplanes have been grounded in a place where flight is no longer allowed. For balloonist Thaddeus, his wife Selah and their daughter Bianca, a cold pervades the purity of their homespun topsy-turvy world. Rebellion is coming, however, as an army of animal masked insurgents set about getting airborne again just as Bianca is lost to the elements.

There's a gorgeous sense of hand-knitted magic to Den Hertog's production, from the way the cast of Melody Grove, Keith Macpherson and Vicki Manderson split the narrative between them as if telling a bedside story for dystopian times, to the way they play fiddle and junkyard percussion to accompany Michael John McCarthy's live backwoods slow-core score.

Karen Tennent's set engulfes the stage with an upside-down world of magical-realist abstractions which the vintage-apparelled family must navigate their way through in a way that is brutally unsentimental in its willingness to sacrifice lead characters. Whether as a metaphor for mass Seasonal Affected Disorder or for the effects of an authority who would rather keep their charges in the dark, Den Hertog and co have produced a living parable of just how hard it is sometimes to come blinking into the light and take flight.

Runs until August 30

Faith and what it means to believe are put under scrutiny in The Christians, American writer Lucas Hnath's play which receives its UK premiere in a production by London's Gate Theatre. Set in a mock-up of a real life church, as with any holy communion, it's easy to be suckered into a revivalist vibe by the sheer elation of community choir, Song Works, who open the show. Once William Gaminara's Pastor Paul introduces the play proper with a prayer and a sermon that marks the beginning of the end of his kingdom.

Flanked by his associates, his elders, his wife and, most crucially of all, his congregation, Paul's progressive suggestion that Hell might not exist is a calculated risk that doesn't exactly go down well. As assorted dissenters take the microphone to speak in turn, the play's construction is closer to Greek tragedy than the pulpit.

Rather than the church per se, this could be parliament or any other hierarchical constructions based on ideology. Although he's left with nothing, Paul and his wife, played by Jaye Griffiths, may be saved yet.

Runs until August 30

The Herald, August 20th 2015


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