Daily Archives: August 11, 2014

Exhibit B

EIF CULTURAL EXPLORERS
Exhibit B
5 stars *****
Playfair Library Hall

EACH AUDIENCE member enters alone, to encounter the Brett Bailey’s great international installation work Exhibit  B; silence is required, and absolute attention.  For in this quiet, almost muted  25-minute experience, Bailey has found a way to encapsulate all the breathtaking cruelty of the age of colonialism that forms the bloody backdrop to this summer’s Commonwealth celebrations, and to bring us face to face with it, in the most literal sense.

The central idea behind Exhibit B – first seen in Brussels 2 years ago – came from Bailey’s encounter with material still held in many European museums, which reveals the extent to which black people were objectified, dismembered, and treated as animals, objects, or freaks, throughout the colonial period.  The audience walks around a series of set-piece exhibits drawn from Dutch, British, Belgian and German colonial history, each one showing a human body in a situation of intolerable cruelty or humiliation.  Here, though, the exhibits are not dummies or stuffed corpses, but living, breathing black men and women, who look straight at us, requiring our response; and there is heart-piercing music, sung by four performers from Namibia who also form part of one of the show’s most terrible images.

The effect is devastating, and made more so by a quiet  insistence that after we have viewed the exhibition, we also learn something about the names and real life-stories of the people we have seen, many of them living in Scotland now.  It’s striking that when Bailey lists the materials of which his installations are made, he lists “spectator/s” as one of them.  In Exhibit B, as in no other piece of art I have seen, we are part of the show, not only gazing but gazed at, measured and judged; the sense of sorrow and shame is overwhelming, along with a liberating sense that something that had to be said has been said, with a decisive and terrible eloquence.

Joyce McMillan
Until 25
p. 33

ENDS ENDS

The War

EIF THEATRE
The War
5 stars *****
King’s Theatre

AS THE SHOW BEGINS, the stage roughly represents a cafe in Paris at Christmas 1913.  There’s a piano, a scratchy wind-up phonograph, a group of young people in Edwardian dress; and a great chandelier, brought down for cleaning in what seems like a visual premonition of ruin.  The young people, including an English painter called George, are discussing the possibility of war.  Some think war in Europe absurd and unthinkable in modern, interconnected times, others argue that war is a great and inevitable aspect of human history, a vital part of manhood; in the background, in Vladimir Pankov’s great stage poem from his Moscow-based SounDrama Studio, the words of Homer’s Iliad come and go, singing of war, both as glory and horror.

The show is also based, though, on two classic Great War memoirs, Russian and English; and soon the he war arrives, filling the stage with heavy grey greatcoats, and taking George’s life.  The characters begin a re-enactment in 17 “rhapsodies” which is intended partly as a psychodrama exposing the trauma of war, but often seems like the purest evocation of it, in its pity, horror, and occasional grandeur.  Pankov’s “SounDrama” simply ravishes the senses, in 150 minutes of continuous, unforgettable theatre; the 19-strong ensemble cast all play instruments, sing in a rapt operatic style, and act magnificently, creating an avalanche of stunning visual images accompanied by the wild and haunting “jazz” of Mikael Fateev and Anton Feshin’s ambient sound design.  In his programme note for 2014, the outgoing Edinburgh International Festival director, Jonathan Mills, makes a powerful case for art as humankind’s best response to the horror of conflict; and although memories and images of war are everywhere, this summer, no work is likely to capture the truth of it, and its bitter and wounding psychological aftermath, with more eloquence, ambition and beauty than this mighty show.

Joyce McMillan
Until 11
p. 13

ENDS ENDS

RiverRun

THEATRE
RIVERRUN
5 stars *****
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)

AS SHE moves onto the stage to begin her astounding solo preformance of riverrun, the great Irish actress Olwen Fouere looks a little like one of those ancient, timeless figures from Samuel Beckett’s late fragments of theatre; the mane of grey-white hair pulled back from the face, the clothes dark, the gender immaterial, or perhaps long gone.  And it seems to me that it’s not an accidental resemblance; for in this mighty dramatisation of the last chapter of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, which she adapted, co-directed and performs, Fouere is pushing towards the experimental limit of Joyce’s work, the point where his sentences soar and fragment into completely new invented languages of sound and meaning, and where his rushing poetic vision of inevitable dissolution takes him closest to the space, on the very brink of oblivion, where his successor Beckett pitches his finest drama.

So in riverrun, we hear and see Fouere perform the final sequence of Joyce’s 1939 novel, in which the River Liffey – Anna Livia, life itself – rushes down to dissolve itself into the sea; and for an astonishing 65 minutes, she holds the audience entralled, as she leads us through Joyce’s glimmering vision of the life of the city as it wakes to another day, of its aspirations and follies and political posturings, then deeper and deeper into the rushing water and into something like a female life-story, before a shimmering final moment of recognition, wonderment, and dissolution.

Riverrun features a quietly brilliant, pulsing soundscape by Alma Kelliher, and superb lighting by Steven Dodd.  But its heart and soul is Fouere’s breathtaking performance, not only a verbal and vocal tour de force that leaves audiences gasping at the levels of skill and memory involved, but also a physical performance of unforgettable intensity, beauty and power.  It’s a performance that takes that initial grey-haired figure, and almost magically allows it to shape-shift into fish and fools, gods and goddesses, preachers and politicians, frightened children, loving wives; and inyo a mighty, pulsing body of water, strong in itself, but composed of tiny, glittering fragments, all destined in the end to rush seaward, into something greater yet.

Joyce McMillan
Until 24
p. 345

ENDS ENDS