JOYCE MCMILLAN on THE NOTEBOOK at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, for The Scotsman, 19.9.15.
4 stars ****
IT’S A MARRIAGE made in heaven, or in some very eloquent circle of hell, this collision between the direct, bare-bones performance style of British experimental company Forced Entertainment, and Agota Kristof’s brilliant and chilling 1986 novel, which takes the form of a wartime notebook written in the inseparable single voice of twin boys evacuated to their grandmother’s house in the country during the Second World War in central Europe.
The trauma they suffer – not least the initial cruelty of their rage-filled old grandmother – not only drives them into an ever-closer bond with each other, but also forces them to clarify their view of the world around them; they not only train themselves not to respond to ordinary experiences of pain or happiness, but lay down strict rules for the notebook, which is to “avoid feelings, and stick to the faithful description of facts”.
And it’s this distanced, Brechtian and almost list-like quality in the writing of The Notebook that links it so powerfully to Forced Entertainment’s recent work with fragmented texts, and provides the huge, unobtrusive surge of energy behind this two-and-a-quarter-hour performance by Forced Entertainment artists Robin Arthur and Richard Lowdon. The story the boys have to tell is a horrific and timeless one, full of the random violence of war, and the deliberate abuse of children caught up in it; but the intense discipline with which it is told, on a simple bare stage by two men in suits and sweaters, forces the audience to think, to interpret, and to make up their own minds, about this unflinching portrait of what happens to humanity, in the face of war.
Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, last performance tonight.