4 stars ****
Summerhall (Venue 26)
THERE ARE real trees lining the walls, a sky full of silver balloons, a floor crunchy with wood chippings; at one end of the space, the ruins of a domestic set, and at the other a pile of fallen apples, and a huge basket, lying abandoned, that must once have belonged to a hot air balloon.
It’s almost as much installation as show, in other words, this beautiful and haunting response by the award-winning Grid Iron company of Edinburgh to Shane Jones’s strange tale Light Boxes, first published in 2009, and now an international cult hit. In the dream-like world invented by Jones – and exquisitely realised for Grid Iron by designer Karen Tennant with lighting by Simon Wilkinson – it is suddenly February forever, and the world grows bleak; all forms of flight are banned, children begin to disappear, and there are murmurs of rebellion.
As the narrative evolves, the story becomes steadily stranger, and neither invites nor rewards any attempt to disentangle its imagery completely. Yet it also carries profound echoes of ancient myths and familiar folk-tales, along with a strong, insistent theme to do with the politics of rebellion against unjust and unaccountable power – a spirit of resistance eventually embodied here in the character of Thaddeus, the father who has lost his daughter, and is overwhelmed by grief and despair.
In Finn den Hertog’s stage version, which he also directs, the story is given a strong emotional centre in the suffering of this family, played with terrific skill and presence by Keith Macpherson as Thaddeus, Melody Grove as his wife, and Vicki Manderson as their elusive daughter. And the show is driven along by Michael John McCarthy’s disturbingly powerful score, a bold, rock-inflected collage of new material and familiar tunes, which borrows from sources including Tom Waits and The Handsome Family to conjure up songs that are brilliantly performed by this multi-talented company, and that reflect the rawness of the emotions unleashed by this strange story of oppression and loss, with just a hint, in the end, of possible redemption.