Dance, Physical Theatre & Circus review: The Afflicted, Summerhall, Edinburgh

THIS IMPRESSIVE FIRST show from new Scottish-based company Groupwork is loosely based on a 2011 incident in which 14 high school students in the small town of LeRoy, New York State - 13 of them girls - suddenly began to show a weird range of physical and psychological symptoms, twitching, going into spasms, and speaking in brief contorted phrases.
The Afflicted, Summerhall (Venue 26)The Afflicted, Summerhall (Venue 26)
The Afflicted, Summerhall (Venue 26)

The Afflicted, Summerhall, Edinburgh * * * *

In creating a stage version of the story, though, for a group of four female dancer-actors, co-directors Finn den Hertog and Vicki Manderson give the events a much more retro mid-20th century feel, as a young 21st century true crime podcaster seeks to investigate an incident that exposes the traditional psychiatric establishment at its unlovely worst, patronising the young women and their families, and pretending to a certainty of knowledge that simply does not exist in the complex field of mass hysteria and “conversion syndrome”.

Presented in a closely-miked documentary style with powerful projected screen images of the town, its people, and those trying to advise them - and also punctuated by frenzied and brilliant dance sequences, choreographed by Vicki Manderson - the 60-minute show that emerges is a vivid and deeply unsettling one, which revolves around the continuing silence of the townsfolk, and of the young women affected by the outbreak, almost all of whom made a full recovery.

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Industrial decline and economic depression make a brief appearance as possible causes of stress on the young women and their families; and many of the families remain convinced that some unidentified source of industrial pollution was to blame. Yet in a part of the United States not far from Salem, Massachusetts, scene of a notorious 17th century witch-hunt triggered by an outbreak of teenage hysteria, there’s also a disturbing sense, beautifully captured in Lewis den Hertog’s visual images and film, that something more might have been involved; a true case of possession by something demonic and terrifying, from which one or two of the young women of LeRoy have never recovered.

Until 25 August