Theatre review: The Dwelling Place

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On holiday in the Outer Hebrides, brothers Lewis and Jamie Wardrop discovered an abandoned house in the village of Leverburgh on Harris.

Star rating: ****

Venue: Summerhall (Venue 26)

Pictures and furniture remained among the mildew and flaking paint, letters and photographs left on a table, as if the occupants had simply walked out and closed the door.

The Wardrops – artists, musicians and theatre-makers – use photography and film made in the house as the basis for an immersive environment which becomes the context in which they explore questions about the fragility of Scotland’s remote communities. It’s a poetic, poignant evocation of an abandoned home, and of the fragments human beings leave behind.

The Dwelling Place, which premiered at the CCA in Glasgow last June as part of Cryptic Nights, occupies two adjoining basement rooms in Summerhall. The audience is free to move between them, watch the various screens and look at art works, while electronic music pulses in the background.

Lewis and Jamie start with a short history of Leverburgh, and move on to the issues facing remote areas today: absentee landlords, ageing population, young people leaving in order to find jobs and housing elsewhere, leaving communities “as delicate as spider’s webs”. There are times when it feels more like being inside an art installation listening to a documentary than in a piece of theatre, but when it comes together dramatically – as it does when we become guests at a traditional island ceilidh – it does so very powerfully.

Whether or not you agree with the brothers’ rather pessimistic view, it’s a rare and valuable chance to hear these issues raised. The multi-layered approach means the show also challenges us, the audience, about any misty-eyed nostalgia we might be clinging to for this way of life in contemporary Scotland.

Until tomorrow. Today 4pm & 7pm.

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