Theatre review: Murdered Artists’ Society

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Three men huddle together, heavy greatcoats flung over them like a tortoiseshell, chanting and swaying and pushing against each other. Later, they recount fragments of the conversations of madmen, repeated and repeated until the words lose their meaning.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)

Later still, there’s angry political discourse, suicidal fantasies and ice, sheets and discs and masks all made of ice. The show ends with an empty stage, the sound of drips and a perfect frozen globe, the size of a billiard ball, melting in your hands.

According to the official Fringe programme blurb, this piece of absurdist ­Russian avant garde theatre, presented by Croatia’s ­Daska Theatre and based on the writings of ­subversive ­literary figures ­Daniil Kharms and Alexander Vvedensky, is a “tribute to all the artists who have been murdered, tortured and exiled”.

Unless you’re a highbrow masochist, that’s probably enough to send you scurrying to the cabaret section for some light relief, but give it a chance and you’ll discover something deeply affecting in the performance.

The reduction of dialogue to nonsense leaves you free to soak in the sonorous sounds and textures and shapes of the words. You’ll find yourself amused by the childlike meanderings of the unfettered mind, startled by the pulpit-bashing of warring speechmakers and quietly moved by the gulag survivors who calmly picture their own deaths rather than envisage a re-entry into their old lives, the better to avoid inflicting on their families the mess of psychological scarring and disorder they’ve become.

When the words have faded out, and your fingers shift and cup and turn the ice to keep from going numb, and the props slowly melt and crack and drip away, there is a moment of… something, perhaps close to serenity.

Obscure? Yes. Impenetrable? Maybe. But certainly worth experiencing.

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