A view of Arthur’s Seat, a range of shows, free music in the evening. What’s not to like, says Sally Stott
BoxedIn Theatre Presents:
(All shows at Pleasance Pop-Up, Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh)
From The Wind, Until 12 August * *
The Earth Untold, Until 26 August * * *
Symbiosis, Until 26 August * * *
Shellshock!, Until 26 August * * *
Daphne, or Hellfire, Until 26 August * *
Swallows, Until 26 August *
The Voices We Hear, Until 26 August * * *
From the company’s name, you might be expecting to visit a shipping container. However, this charming new venue is actually an airy greenhouse where the sun, at least today, pours through a glass roof. While The Big Four might have endless rolls of Astroturf, here you get real grass, a view of Arthur’s Seat and free live music every evening.
Billed as the Fringe’s first zero-waste performance space, it houses seven very different shows over the course of a ten-hour day, after which, if you’re there for the whole duration (like me), you too may well have biodegraded. While some of the pieces can feel like they’re hitting you over the head with the important-issue-of-climate-change, it’s hard to feel too resentful when it’s done by a likeable young cast with lots of enthusiasm in such a pleasant space.
The morning starts with From the Wind, a fact-laden insight into the history, politics and practicalities of renewable energy, based upon interviews with local people on Fair Isle and the Isle of Lewis. Described as ‘activist theatre in its purest form’, writer Eilidh MacKinnon’s script has clearly involved a lot of research, but at times feels more like an essay than a piece of theatre, with the cast adopting the tone of a public service broadcast. However, the moments when the characters’ humour and humanity shines through hint at ways the piece could be developed to engage, as well as inform.
The Earth Untold is a more creative piece of writing, by Georgina Luckhurst, that imaginatively draws parallels between the natural world, folk stories and Greek mythology. Objects, chosen by audience members from a ‘Pandora’s Box’, are used by the tightly rehearsed cast to imaginatively connect stories with factual and historical information. A little mirror that I pick leads to the story of Narcissus and Echo, which then transforms into a description of the ‘talking bouquets,’ used by Victorians to send coded messages, while a mechanical nightingale struggles to replace a real one in a retelling of a Danish fairytale. It’s particularly evocative to hear lyrical descriptions of flora, fauna, animals and birds while sitting in a venue surrounded by them, even if the box of evils (or perhaps blessings) doesn’t entirely fit as a framing device.
In Symbiosis, the relationship between the natural world and the human body is explored through a one-woman dance, performed and choreographed by Charmaine Hiller. Emerging from the sea, a figure in blue, she is accompanied by the neutral drone of a disembodied narration, which speaks ethereal words about life, death, time space and the galaxy. The movement is, in places, an overly literal representation of the verse, with the circular choreography becoming repetitive, but Hiller is an engaging performer, whose strong and simple style is strangely hypnotic. With her “limbs like roots” turning into “dancer’s feet”, the piece is a meditative reminder of how the moving body is also an integral part of nature and not, as we often see it, a separate entity.
Next, in a dramatic shift of tone, Shellshock! bursts in, a cartoon-like caper with an unabashed nonsensical plot, silly songs, a likeable cast, upbeat guitar and some surprisingly heartfelt moments – particularly since one involves a woman’s relationship with a turtle. The farce-like chaos evokes the work of student fringe comedy troupes from days gone by, and the cast are all clearly having a tremendous time. While there’s a loose story about some plucky individuals who take on an oil and gas company, there’s no self-consciously serious message about the environment here, just lots of exuberant, youthful energy – which in itself offers a living, breathing, singing and dancing reminder of who we’re saving the planet for.
We’re back in the realms of Greek mythology with Daphne, or Hellfire, Isla Cowan’s imaginative reworking of the myth of Daphne and Apollo. In this version, Daphne is a committed environmental activist struggling with her controlling boyfriend Apollo, who can barely put the can from his Ambrosia breakfast in the bin. The piece starts off well with some snappy writing from Cowan, sexual tension between the two characters, and an evocative use of live sound effects, but after Daphne flees to the woods the writing becomes overly self-analytical and performances over-wrought, building to an earnest and not very satisfying conclusion.
As night sets in, things take a darker turn in Swallows where a docile young woman, inconceivably named Tim, finds herself in an abusive relationship with Harry, the violent, misogynistic leader of a group of eco-terrorists, played with impressive levels of conviction by Daniel Jonusas, who is clearly a talented actor. However, without the script offering a sufficiently clear dramatic point for the escalating levels of menace (accompanied by loud banging on the theatre walls), the piece unwittingly descends into a macabre farce, particularly when Harry pulls out a hammer on a chain with which to further threaten the poor, cowering Tim.
By the time of the final show, The Voices We Hear, it’s dark outside and a couple of eco-friendly lights flicker dimly in the shadows, as two women, perhaps the only survivors in a post-apocalyptic world, develop an unlikely friendship over some old-fashioned walkie-talkies. Devised and directed by Oli Savage and Louis Catliff, the lively dialogue is complemented by strong performances from Molly Williams and Georgina Savage. It’s a subtle but effective piece that uses heart and humour to sidestep bigger dramatic issues in favour of a touching story of two smart women who help each other to survive.
Together, the shows cover an impressive array of styles, tones and subject matters. Sometimes strong, sometimes in need of more development, they are united by their collective scope and ambition, as well as the fact that there can be no better place to debate the environmental themes they tackle than in this lovely little venue, situated in one of the most naturally beautiful spots in Edinburgh.