Theatre review: How To Act

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Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Of all the shows on this year’s Fringe about post-colonial encounters and attitudes, none will strike closer to home – for the British theatre community assembled in Edinburgh – than Graham Eatough’s new two-handed drama for the National Theatre of Scotland, playing at Summerhall.

Summerhall (Venue 26)

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After a decade of working on the international theatre scene, the former artistic director of the late, great Scottish theatre company Suspect Culture has written a disturbing study of power and its abuses in the arts and beyond, in which Robert Goodale is all twinkly, self-deprecating charm as an acclaimed international theatre director giving a master class (he prefers to call it a workshop), and Jade Ogugua is a student called Promise, who increasingly – and in the end sensationally – challenges his world-view, and his sense of himself as a man in control of his own narrative.

There are aspects of the play’s ending that perhaps push Eatough’s point a little too far. Yet in a short hour, How To Act covers a vast amount of ground, exploding outward from its “play about theatre” format into a powerful exploration of the devastation of the Niger delta – where Promise’s mother grew up – by global oil companies over the last 40 years, and an ever wider indictment of the West’s intolerable conduct in not only exploiting the resources and people of once-colonised countries, but then constructing romantic narratives in which they are supposed to somehow rebalance the loss of authenticity and “purity” in our own wealthy cultures.

In Eatough’s own production, Anthony Nicoll is completely persuasive as the would-be theatrical shaman, Jade Ogugua furious and brilliant as Promise, and with sound by Matt Padden, choreography by EJ Boyle and lighting by Karen Bryne helping to shape the action, How To Act emerges as a riveting hour of theatre, as uncomfortable and demanding as it is rich in meaning.

Until 27 August. Today 1:10pm.