Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir, Lowland Hall, Ingliston
Walking, Holkham Hall, Norfolk; Cornelius Finborough, London

Théâtre du Soleil kick up a mighty storm, but a long slow walk in the country is a damp squib

Now that's what I call storming. A gigantic mainsail is thrashing overhead, as if in a hurricane. One man clings to the yardarm while, down below, a sailor appears to be sliding, spread-eagled, off a pitching deck, followed by passengers rolling like tumbleweed.

What's wonderful is the grass-roots theatricality of veteran director Ariane Mnouchkine's epic production, Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores) – aka "The Castaways of the Fol Espoir (Sunrises)", with English surtitles, at the Edinburgh International Festival. Loosely inspired by Jules Verne's 1897 novel Magellania, this visually stunning and politically barbed saga sees avaricious European capitalists and Utopian socialists shipwrecked, together, in a freezing wilderness near Cape Horn.

Shockingly not seen in Britain for two decades, Mnouchkine's famed Théâtre du Soleil ensemble, from Paris, conjure up mighty storm scenes with little more than electric fans, rope pulleys, and humorous physical-theatre tricks. Scarves flap wildly on invisible threads, and the low-tech aesthetic certainly comes as a relief when, these days, so many hip and unimaginative directors think we can't do without flickering screens.

This piece is, all the same, technically sophisticated and multi-layered. The shipwreck is simultaneously portrayed in miniature: a tiny clipper, seen by flashes of lightning, tossing on a bath of green, foaming water. Meanwhile, Verne's story is wittily framed by Mnouchkine within a secondary plot: the shooting of a silent movie by an amorous and quarrelsome, left-wing collective (implicitly with autobiographical elements), canned on the dystopian eve of the First World War. Though protracted, at more than four hours, and ultimately losing its satirical complexity to more simplistic didacticism, Les Naufragés is still unmissable.

As for fol espoir, surely it wasn't totally Panglossian to hope that Walking would be first-rate as well. Part of the Cultural Olympiad (care of the Norfolk and Norwich Festival), this al-fresco promenade piece is by the internationally revered director and visual artist Robert Wilson (with Dutch scenographer Theun Mosk and theatre-maker Boukje Schweigman, credited as collaborators). Wilson is Mnouchkine's coeval, but of the American avant-garde school. I have found his highly stylised productions, with dreamlike slow motion, compelling – but then I was not obliged to take part.

Walking turns out to be an exercise in irritation, simultaneously dictatorial and, to put it bluntly, half-arsed. It ought to be idyllic, in essence a rural stroll. Promenaders are dispatched from Holkham Hall in north Norfolk to meander through pastures and woods, over dunes to the sea. The landscape is scattered with sculptural installations. I assume the emotional journey I went on was, however, not quite what was envisaged. "Angels" (guides posted along the way) imply you're en route to Nirvana, whispering, "Relax and enjoy". But you must remain in single file; follow the white stones; and take very, very slow steps.

The walk is three miles. Wilson has decreed that you'll cover the ground over three-and-a-half hours. By the second field I was already infuriated and wanting to run wild, in protest. Casting off the hectic velocity of modern life can inspire contemplation, but Wilson spoils the ramble with his restrictions.

I did calm down for a bit in the middle (by pretending that I was an arthritic nonagenarian). I observed the flora's microhabitats more closely: the perennial ryegrass and hoary plantain, the red sorell and the silverweed. I loved the rustling reeds, loved the towering pine wood. But you can do that any weekend, free.

As for the installations, perhaps they symbolise life's rites of passage. A pseudo-primitive temple at the start has a fascinating deep, black, conical hole surrounded by walls of auburn willow branches, like shaggy hair writ large. At the end, on the sweeping shore, winched "sky beds" tilt you back till you're gazing at the clouds, which feels like a transcendent, poetic death, despite the sore disappointment of noticing planks and pipes that look as if they were sourced from B&Q.

Lastly, the Finborough Theatre on the London fringe deserves its reputation for rediscovering forgotten gems, but Cornelius (originally written for Ralph Richardson in 1935) isn't a blinder, directed by Sam Yates. For sure, J B Priestley's Depression-era office drama has sharp contemporary resonances, for Jim Cornelius's small, aluminium-importing firm is going bust, with a creditors' meeting to be attended by a noxious banker.

Although pleasantly humane, Priestley spells out his criticisms of the capitalist system in plodding, middlebrow mode, with impoverished salesmen passing through. On the night I attended, Alan Cox was semi-bellowing in a small space, never quite managing to weld Cornelius's different sides: cheery chap, romantic dreamer and lonely depressive, let down by the daily grind and economic injustices. Still, Yates's cast are certainly commendable, and stardom beckons for newcomer Emily Barber who, as the new typist, Judy, exudes pert sweetness with a slight edge and a mysterious smile.

'Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir' (0131-473 2000) to 28 Aug; 'Walking' (01603-7664000) to 2 Sep; 'Cornelius': (0844 847 1652) to 8 Sep

Critic's Choice

The outstanding verbatim musical London Road, recording local residents' reactions to the 2006 serial-killing of women in Ipswich, is at the NT Olivier, London (to 6 Sep). You Me Bum Bum Train, the promenade production with audience participation that's become a cult hit, is at Empire House in Stratford, east London (to 19 Sep; tickets via the Barbican).

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Capaldi and Chris Addison star in political comedy The Thick of IT

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judy Murray said she

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Vine has won the funniest joke award at the Edinburgh Festival 2014

edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.

Edinburgh
Arts and Entertainment
Seoul singer G-Dragon could lead the invasion as South Korea has its sights set on Western markets
music
Arts and Entertainment
Gary Lineker at the UK Premiere of 'The Hunger Games: Catching Fire'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Bale as Batman in a scene from
film
Arts and Entertainment
Johhny Cash in 1969
musicDyess Colony, where singer grew up in Depression-era Arkansas, opens to the public
Arts and Entertainment
Army dreamers: Randy Couture, Sylvester Stallone, Dolph Lundgren and Jason Statham
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off 2014 contestants
tvReview: It's not going to set the comedy world alight but it's a gentle evening watch
Arts and Entertainment
Umar Ahmed and Kiran Sonia Sawar in ‘My Name Is...’
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
This year's Big Brother champion Helen Wood
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Full company in Ustinov's Studio's Bad Jews
Theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Harari Guido photographed Kate Bush over the course of 11 years
Music
Arts and Entertainment
Reviews have not been good for Jonathan Liebesman’s take on the much loved eighties cartoon
Film

A The film has amassed an estimated $28.7 million in its opening weekend

Arts and Entertainment
Untwitterably yours: Singer Morrissey has said he doesn't have a twitter account
Music

A statement was published on his fansite, True To You, following release of new album

Arts and Entertainment
Full throttle: Philip Seymour Hoffman and John Turturro in God's Pocket
film
Arts and Entertainment
Kylie Minogue is expected to return to Neighbours for thirtieth anniversary special
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home
    Lauded therapist Harley Mille still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Lauded therapist still in limbo as battle to stay in Britain drags on

    Australian Harley Miller is as frustrated by court delays as she is with the idiosyncrasies of immigration law
    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world. But could his predictions of war do the same?

    Lewis Fry Richardson's weather forecasts changed the world...

    But could his predictions of war do the same?
    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs: 'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    'I want to have contact with the audience, not iPhones'

    Kate Bush asks fans not to take photos at her London gigs
    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities, but why?

    Young at hort

    Under-35s have rated gardening in their top five favourite leisure activities. But why are so many people are swapping sweaty clubs for leafy shrubs?
    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award: 'making a quip as funny as possible is an art'

    Beyond a joke

    Tim Vine, winner of the Funniest Joke of the Fringe award, has nigh-on 200 in his act. So how are they conceived?
    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    The late Peter O'Toole shines in 'Katherine of Alexandria' despite illness

    Sadly though, the Lawrence of Arabia star is not around to lend his own critique
    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire: The joy of camping in a wetland nature reserve and sleeping under the stars

    A wild night out

    Wicken Fen in Cambridgeshire offers a rare chance to camp in a wetland nature reserve
    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition: It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans

    Comic Sans for Cancer exhibition

    It’s the font that’s openly ridiculed for its jaunty style, but figures of fun have their fans
    Besiktas vs Arsenal: Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie

    Besiktas vs Arsenal

    Five things we learnt from the Champions League first-leg tie
    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    Rory McIlroy a smash hit on the US talk show circuit

    As the Northern Irishman prepares for the Barclays, he finds time to appear on TV in the States, where he’s now such a global superstar that he needs no introduction
    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to Formula One

    Boy racer Max Verstappen stays relaxed over step up to F1

    The 16-year-old will become the sport’s youngest-ever driver when he makes his debut for Toro Rosso next season
    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    Fear brings the enemies of Isis together at last

    But belated attempts to unite will be to no avail if the Sunni caliphate remains strong in Syria, says Patrick Cockburn
    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I would end up killing myself in jail'

    Charlie Gilmour: 'I wondered if I'd end up killing myself in jail'

    Following last week's report on prison suicides, the former inmate asks how much progress we have made in the 50 years since the abolition of capital punishment