3 stars ***
Old College Quad (Venue 192)

MY HEART SANK A little, as I made my way up into Old College Quad to experience this spectacular show by Teatr Novogo Fronta, of Prague and St. Petersburg.  In recent years, after all, there’s been a slightly toxic collision between the once-mighty east European tradition of visual and physical theatre, and the insatiable showbiz demands of the western outdoor festival circuit.  Never mind the poetry, comes the message from the marketplace; just give us plenty of loud bangs, and fireworks.

It’s therefore very much to the credit of this long-standing group of artistic collaborators that they succeed, this time round, in meeting many of those demands, while at the same time producing a show that has its moments of genuine delicacy and thoughtfulness.  Like many outdoor theatre pieces, Phantomysteria tells a broad-brush-stroke story of the rise and fall of a civilisation; it begins with an apocalypse, follows a dusty survivor with a briefcase as he staggers from the wreckage to begin again, and watches his world in turn reach a crisis of violence and agony, before reaching a new accommodation with nature.  There’s plenty of smoke and blazing fire, and a brief satirical riff on the American Dream, in which an old 1950’s jalopy roars around the courtyard.  But there are also three powerful and precise performances from Irina Andreevna and her fellow-actors; and towards the end, some memorable use of contemporary photographic images, to remind us that this is, at heart, a show with serious intentions.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25 August
p. 120


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