Theatre review: Are We Not Drawn Onward To New ErA, Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

Look for a while at the title of this latest show from the now-legendary Belgian company Ontroerend Goed, and you may begin to glimpse the idea at the heart of this extraordinary piece of  theatre, created by its six-strong performing company with director Alexander Devriendt, and dramaturg Jan Martens.

Soren Kierkegaard: "Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards"

Are We Not Drawn Onward To New ErA, Zoo Southside, Edinburgh * * * *

Inspired by Kierkegaard’s comment that life must be lived forwards, but can only be understood backwards, Are We Not Drawn Onward…. sets out to show us a creation myth that becomes a tragedy of destruction, and then, in reverse, a new act of creation. Its relationship to the current plight of humanity, on the brink of environmental meltdown, is obvious. Yet it is also a show of extraordinary beauty, set in a Garden of Eden gradually defiled by the worship of a giant gold statue, and of quite breathtaking ingenuity, as we realise - around half way through - that the strange language the performers have been speaking in the first half is actually the English of the second half, backwards, and that the whole spectacle has been filmed, to be replayed to us, in reverse.

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All of which would be impressive enough as a theatrical and filmic exercise; but what is most remarkable is the show’s overwhelming emotional and intellectual impact, as it begins to measure out, minute by minute, the growing difficulty and implausibility of putting back together again what humankind has already destroyed. At the hinge of the show, though, the performer Leonore Spee, looking like a slightly older Greta Thunberg, navigates us through a speech that evolves from backward language to forward speech, making it clear that this is the point from which any future has to start; and if what follows is overwhelmingly sad, it’s perhaps because it’s only by looking backward, and fully understanding our destructive past, that any real move forward becomes possible.

Until 25 August