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The Notebook

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars


Two bespectacled men in identical suits and patterned maroon sweaters step onto a
wooden floor empty save for a pair of matching chairs with a bottle of water
beside each. Standing alongside each other, the two men open the brown paper
covered notebooks each are carrying, and, in unison, announce each chapter of
their back pages.

What follows in Forced Entertainment's interpretation of Hungarian writer Agota Kristof's novel concerning twin boys' experiences while evacuated to their grand-mother's farm during World War Two and beyond is a fascinatingly grotesque look at the brutal extremes survival can take.

As performers Robin Arthur and Richard Lowden read their first-person narrative as
if unveiling their joint diaries at a spoken-word night, it's as if Gilbert and
George had channelled John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos and married such an unholy
alliance to a bombed-out equivalent of Ivor Cutler's Life in A Scotch Sitting
Room.

Beyond such a Jackanory story-telling aesthetic, such absurdities move
into increasingly stranger waters, as the boys, dispassionate, precocious and
dangerously inseparable, run up against a community who grab on to anything they
can in the face of both Nazism and the subsequent Russian occupation.

Running at over two hours without a break, Tim Etchells' production, conceived and
devised with Forced Entertainment's long-standing company of six, is a grim look
at how a pair of misfits can be emotionally numbed to everyday atrocities even
more than they already are. An inherent gallows humour is heightened by a
deadpan delivery that seems to put every line in inverted commas in this child's
eye view of life during wartime that transcends its subject to become the
ultimate show-and-tell.

The Herald, September 21st 2015


Ends


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