The audience sits in a silent circle, facing one another. On each of our chairs is an illustrated hardbound book with the well-worn weight of a cherished religious text. We aren’t told whether we should look at it or not, so some do and some don’t. To those who do, it becomes obvious that this book – a vortex of disjointed text, anguished faces and constellational images of the universe – is a glimpse into the future. One whose meaning even a seer might not be able to predict.
A woman named Anna (Susan Vidler) enters the circle. She explains to us that we will read the book together, and that it will be elaborated upon by what we see before us, as Anna travels to South America in an attempt to free her daughter Bonnie (now named Sol, and played by Shyvonne Ahmmad) from the clutches of the doomsday cult led by Anna’s former partner Miles (Tim Crouch).
Crouch is also the playwright of this new production by the National Theatre of Scotland, premiering at the Edinburgh International Festival and touring throughout a number of theatres this autumn, including the Royal Court in London. Those who know his work will know he’s a fierce experimenter with the form and very concept of theatre, but this piece stretches even his ever-changing style to the margins, blurring the space between text and performance in brilliantly dream-like fashion.
Most importantly, the dramatic intent and subtle relevance of the piece stand up tall. In Anna, we feel the punch-drunk pain of someone who feels they have finally grasped the truth amid a sea of lies, and can’t understand why no-one else has; in young Sol, the lie is so ingrained that it has become an article of faith; and in Miles, the dangers of placing all our faith in one individual is made apparent, as his obsession with righting a family tragedy which can never be altered and his self-cultivated arrogance brew up a dangerous cocktail.
Rachana Jadhav’s beautifully illustrated book, the direction of Karl James and Andy Smith, and Pippa Murphy’s pitch-perfect sound design all come together in a unique theatrical experience. If any sense of ambiguity develops, it might serve only to confirm the instincts of those who broke open the book at the start; that no matter how tempting it may seem, the future – whether it’s written or unwritten – is not something we should know of in advance.
At the Studio, Edinburgh, until Sunday 25 August, then dates at Royal Court, London; Dublin Theatre Festival; Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts, Brighton; Teatro do Bairro Alto, Lisbon until Saturday 16 November. www.eif.co.uk
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