Dance & Physical Theatre review: The Desk, Summerhall, Edinburgh

'Honkakoski has drawn on her own experience of a cult in creating the show, and playing the role of the leader...'

The Desk, Summerhall (Venue 26)
The Desk, Summerhall (Venue 26)

The Desk, Summerhall * * * *

In a world increasingly dominated by a new generation of authoritarian leaders, no subject matters more than the story of how such leaders arise, how their followers become so slavishly bound to them and their ideology, and what happens when that belief begins to fail. In her brilliant 60-minute physical theatre piece The Desk, Finnish director and choreographer Reetta Honkakoski uses no words to tell the story; instead, there are just five girls, five old-fashioned school desks, and a leader, expressing through the most brilliantly sustained sequence of movement all the outlines and undercurrents of a group drawn together by such a shared belief in a common leader, and striving to outdo one another in obedience, until everything begins to fall apart.

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And at every point – from early absolute unity and exhilaration, through hints of sexual abuse of a follower’s devotion, to a final defeat and slaughter denied and resisted to the last – every perfectly-polished moment of this performance, backed by Tuuli Kyttala’s stunning soundtrack, is honed into a tableau that vibrates with meaning and emotion; with the passion to believe in something, and the need for security, that some leaders understand and exploit so ruthlessly – perhaps because, at the core of their personalities, there is an even greater emptiness, glimpsed here in Honkakoski’s chilling and unforgettable central performance.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Until 25 August