On the beach at Aberdeen, just after dark, a row of eleven small figures sits along the edge of the water, backs to the audience, gazing out to sea. To the south-east, a huge moon rises over the city; small waves lap up to the row of watchers and break, catching the light. The watchers wear long black coats and shoes, red stockings and hats, white scarves; these are the signature colours of Akhe Theatre, the avant-garde St Petersburg company with whom they’ve been working for the last two weeks, on creating this one-hour spectacle called Rewind Perspective.
NTS Futureproof, various venues ****
The soundtrack by Akhe’s Denis Krivtsov – played on loudspeakers but also relayed to the audience via headphones – sounds powerfully Russian, with folk-song-style comic sequences, and then fierce symphonic echoes of Stravinsky or Mussorgsky; the 11 watchers look like children but also like workers, toiling in unison through the thick sand to perform their tasks, or suddenly breaking out into brief moments of celebration and dance. And in the foreground, the three performer-theatre-makers of Akhe – Maksim Isaev, Nikolai Khamov and Pavel Semchenko – move to and fro in heavy peasant skirts, often with a strange lateral arm-swinging gesture like workers in a huge cornfield, building and reshaping the glowing landscape of triangular structures they have created for the show.
Rewind Perspective is just one of the ten shows that make up the National Theatre of Scotland’s FutureProof project, designed to mark – and largely funded by – Scotland’s current Year Of Young People; and as with all the other projects in this ambitious bringing-together of Scottish teenagers and experimental theatre companies from around the world, it’s impossible to assess, this close to the event, just what its long-term impact might be. Akhe have only had ten days of rehearsal with their young all-female company from Aberdeen, and here the young people’s role is largely that of a chorus, providing vital elements of a stage picture that Akhe must have largely designed and built in advance. Yet the exposure to Akhe’s sheer brilliance as visual theatre-makers, and the sense of deep physical connection, through performance, with a vision that speaks so deeply of a Russian culture and society with a different rhythm from ours, may well touch the imaginations of the young people involved, and of their audiences, in ways that are beyond calculation.
And if Rewind Perspective is the most visually stunning show FutureProof is likely to produce, the nine others demonstrate a huge range of ways of engaging with young performers, and tapping into their creativity. In Polmont Young Offenders’ institution, for example, the Glasgow company Glas(s) Performance had eight months of twice-weekly sessions in which to prepare for Motion, a brilliantly wry, funny and perceptive reflection on what it means to be a man in Scotland today, performed by a terrific company of eight, three of whom co-devised the show.
In Paisley, it was about becoming a tour guide for the audience in Rimini Protokoll of Berlin’s Do’s and Don’ts in a glass-sided truck, conducting them around a map of possible urban futures. In Dundee, it was about making a seven-minute film with Back To Back theatre of Australia – one that, unlike some of the other projects, sometimes seems to draw strongly on the specific quality of this moment, in the city’s evolving story.
And there are two shows still to come – The World Is A Wedding, created by the Canadian group Mammalian Diving Reflex with young people in Unst, Shetland, and Campo of Belgium’s Wild Life FM, in which young people in Ayr will launch a reflective musical radio station – that seem set to explore yet more different dynamics.
For myself, I loved the contrast I experienced in a single day between the visual gorgeousness of Akhe’s show and the concentrated vocal and musical energy of Scottish theatre-maker Greg Sinclair’s show Lots And Not Lots, in Glenrothes, which delved deep into the true voices of the 11 young people involved to capture their sense of themselves as little islands of consciousness in a universe that seems ever more mysterious.
And if it’s hard to measure what a project like FutureProof can achieve for audiences, in terms of enhancing Scotland’s understanding of itself and the world, what’s clear is that, at least for a rising generation of potential young theatre-makers, FutureProof will have been a mind-blowing experience, and perhaps a transformative one. - Joyce McMillan
The World Is A Wedding in Lerwick and Unst, 25-28 October. Wilde Life FM at Ayr Gaiety Theatre, 27-28 October. The Dundee film Radial is available online, along with more information about FutureProof shows, at www.nationaltheatrescotland.com/