The Week in the Theater: A Little Life; Medea; model station: Leith; detention dialogues

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<p><figcaption class=Photo: Murdo MacLeod/The Observer

Garbage on the street, not on stage. The excitement came unpredictably during my Edfest 2022: not from explosions of new work, but from adjustments and iterations.

I didn’t jump in a little life, Ivo van Hove’s 2015 stage version of Hanya Yanagihara’s novel. Although its plot follows the lives of four New Yorkers, its central theme is abuse and self-abuse: it revolves around the plight of one of the men, who, violently, is used by priests and the ungodly attacked, can’t trust enough to be intimate – and cuts himself to manage his pain. Van Hove’s adaptation is four hours long and in Dutch (with surtitles). I was skeptical about the director’s idea that he wasn’t adapting a book but “an excess”. What does that mean? Why should the remit of fiction be restricted? Does the transformation of a volume into an abstraction allow one to soar above the scrutiny?

But the experience exceeded his description. Production has a basilisk power. Taking apart Yanagihara’s 700+ pages and focusing entirely on the most obscure but quivering of her characters, Van Hove triumphantly demonstrates how damage can penetrate DNA.

There’s no flinching from the horrors: razor blades can be too small to be seen even from the stands; not so the glistening rings of blood that produce them. Yet physical openness is laced with inner suggestion: the evening begins with a murmur of Schubert’s Erlkönig, whose wild tale of a boy torn between father and seductive slayer is a reminder that Yanagihara spoke of fairy tales as inspiration Has.

No gods drag things around: Lochhead’s play, which spits at male bullies, is about personal betrayal and revenge

All attackers are played by Hans Kesting with an impressive, sinister loom. As the central character, Ramsey Nasr is like a creature irradiated but trapped by glare. Each attack leaves him with another bloody stain: we see his version of himself, not the “magician of obfuscation” his friends think he is. Everything is both tangible and elusive. Jan Versweyveld’s design carves areas – an operating room bed, an artist’s studio – in front of a street life video that occasionally seethes with noise. This is also the moodiest phase since Jerusalem: Nasr may be lifted across the stage as if from the cross, but the stalls smell not of holiness but of turpentine.

More than 20 years have passed since Liz Lochhead’s Scots Medea burned into me for the first time at the festival. Then Maureen Beattie stormed across the stage. In Michael Boyd’s powerful new production, Adura Onashile is imperious and serpentine, stroking a servant’s chest with her hand while asking for a favor.

Tom Piper’s design is a bare copper box, polished but beginning to rust. The detail is in the beat of Lochhead’s explosive, alliterative verse. The drama is described as “after Euripides” and is peppered with additional human incidents. Medea meets her rival: Alana Jackson smiles as Glauke in blue satin, while all the women are dressed in somber black and gray. No gods drag things around: Lochhead’s play, which spits at male bullies, is about personal betrayal and revenge.

No production has convinced me that Medea was really compelled to kill her children, but Boyd and Lochhead almost make the savagery of the early acts seem like the engine of the murder. Medea, gutted by betrayal, is driven to anger by a chorus that mingles with the audience, crowding around her and holding down her arms as if to prevent her from flying away like a kite. Namely a bird of prey.

Next to Medea In 2000, I reviewed the adventurous theater company Grid Iron. Everyone at the festival and on the fringes has every reason to thank these site-specific explorers, not only for lighting up Edinburgh’s playgrounds and department stores with their stories, but also for unearthing a new venue – the Underbelly. Yet although her latest promenade performance creates a number of lively hot spots, Sample station: Leith is inundated with his history of climate crisis and displacement.

The audience moves through the Leith Academy as observers and participants. The Great Wave is coming; All over the UK boys are jumping to their deaths; People grab the last seats in boats. A gym becomes a clearing station, with checkpoints asking everyone what matters most to them. I think I lied when I proudly and stumbled proclaiming “Truthfulness” and was shamed by others who unhesitatingly declared “my grandchildren.” A quiz about Finland – the dream destination of the refugees – takes place in a library.

In the best scene, a teenage menage a trois swims in a rubber dinghy in a swimming pool. Softly steaming at the sides, the audience hears the children’s exchanges through headphones: joking and affectionate at first, they are engulfed in disaster; Videos of gray waves pile up next to the baby blue pool. This is the most naturally acted scene in Ben Harrison’s production, in which the performances are often too theatrical to feel documentary. It’s also the scene in which the audience is most interestingly positioned: immersed in the action without being coerced; an indication of what it means to be both involved and powerless.

detention dialogues, produced by ice&fire Actors for Human Rights, delivers the refugee experience head on. In more silent narration than performance, four actors read the words of actual asylum seekers, men and women held at Dungavel Immigration Detention Center and elsewhere, whose lives have been suspended indefinitely, sometimes after years in the UK, always after hardship at their birthplaces. “Incarcerated,” as one viewer insisted in a post-show Q&A, is a euphemism for “incarcerated”; Uncertainty also turns out to be a euphemism – for torture.

The accounts are plain and frank: of the woman escaping life as a servant being beaten by the master of the house by jumping on a bus and talking to a passenger; of a couple who, threatened by relatives in Pakistan, find their lawyer unable to translate testimonies from Urdu after their life savings are gone. Also sitting on the platform are two BSL signatories: above-average celebrity – and above-average expressive when they react to each other; another circle of empathy.

These refugee voices are another Edinburgh echo. In the same Medea/ Grid Iron Column I reviewed Kay Adsheads The mock woman, about an asylum seeker. So, 22 years later, stories of displaced people and bullying leaders still dominate. Does that mean the festival is deadlocked? No: sure the world has.

Star rating (out of five)
a little life
★★★★
Medea ★★★★
Sample station: Leith ★★★
detention dialogues ★★★

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