3 stars ***
Traverse Theatre (Venue 15)
THE GENERATION who died in the First World War tended to believe in service, and self-sacrifice for a greater collective cause; the aesthetic of 21st-century performance art, by contrast, is often about the self-expressive individual. And it’s perhaps because it involves such a sharp collision between these two worlds that Valentijn Dhaenens’s SmallWar – a 70-minute meditation created and performed by one of Belgium’s leading theatre artists – is both fascinating and frustrating, in equal measure.
Articulated as much through film, recorded sound and light as through live performance, SmallWar shows multiple images of Dhaenens, both as a mutilated and dying soldier lying in a hospital bed, and as the many versions of the same man who rise up – in thought, at least – to walk across the floor, to speak to loved ones on the telephone, or to remember happier times.
Meanwhile, Dhaenens himself, dressed as a female nurse, stands by the bedside, sometimes singing sad 20th century torch-songs, sometimes delivering a devastating monologue about loss. And if this prolonged immersion in the image of Dhaenens – male and female, alive and dying – seems like an oddly self-reflexive way to commemorate the deaths of four million and more, the show remains a vivid and hugely accomplished evocation of all that is lost, when just one human being among so many passes into oblivion.