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Fringe Theatre 2018 - Erewhon, Summerhall, Four stars / The Last Straw, Summerhall, Four stars

The world is slowly but surely turned upside down in Erewhon, Arthur Meek’s quasi-steam-punk reimagining of Samuel Butler’s nineteenth century novel of the same name. Accompanied by musician Eva Prowse, who provides a dream-laced soundscape on keyboards, guitar and spectral-sounding voice, Meek’s reinvention takes the form of a magic lantern show and old-school Victorian lecture. Meek picks up Butler’s mantle to reveal an imperfect idyll that has rewound on itself, with divisive technology ditched in favour of a matriarchal queendom.

The upper-crust horror of Butler’s colonialist reaction to such progressive attempts at civilisation may be grotesquely comic, but this international co-production between New Zealand-based artist Meek and Edinburgh’s Magnetic North company nevertheless taps into an all too current attempt to rewind the clock on old ideas of empire while effectively taming the natives. Meek’s telling in Nicholas Bone’s production incorporates infinitely more modern machinery to relay his and Butler’s satire to a global village which itself might be going nowhere in a witty and lyrical excavation of times past.

Things are looking considerably bleaker in The Last Straw, aka People Show 130, in keeping with the UK’s premiere performance group’s meticulous chronology of their work over the last half century. Here, this newly devised show puts a man and a woman in a room, where they shelter from the blast outside as they attempt to make some kind of meaning from the shredded certainties that litter the floor.

A door acts as both barrier and gateway to who-knows-where? Low hums of sound ebb and flow throughout the pair’s exchanges, occasionally building to fever-pitch crescendos. As the survivors, Gareth Brierley and Fiona Creese go from small talk to gobbledegook to something resembling sense. When Brierley talks of a world where all-powerful bears control increasingly terrified squirrels, the metaphor isn’t hard to spot in something resembling Waiting for Godot for the post-truth age.

The Herald, August 22nd 2018

ends


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