Theatre reviews: Atlantis Banal, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh | Salt/Bleach, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Shona Reppe is at her gorgeous, absurdist best in Atlantis Banal
Shona Reppe is at her gorgeous, absurdist best in Atlantis Banal
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WHAT is art, then? It seems like a question for adults, and perhaps for that particular kind of adult who gives a damn about culture and its definitions; but it’s one of the many virtues of Shona Reppe’s latest family show that it demonstrates how that same question can amuse and intrigue children of almost any age, bringing the generations together in an entertaining and strangely exhilarating hour of enquiry about where play ends, and art begins.

So we enter the “pop-up gallery” in which the show is set, sit round on four sides of the space, and are welcomed by two museum staff dressed in Mondrian colours, a gift-shop manager played by Reppe, and her assistant Graeme, played by Tamlin Witshire. There’s an introductory lecture by a female expert, also hilariously played by Reppe; Atlantis Banal, so we’re told, is a remarkable artist, born on an island somewhere between Scotland and Norway, struck by lightning at an early age, and raised by an aunt who was a sardine packer, and an uncle who was a dry cleaner.

Atlantis Banal, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh **** | Salt ***/Bleach ***, Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh

Estlin Love is a ravaged girl crossed with raging punk diva

Estlin Love is a ravaged girl crossed with raging punk diva

It’s therefore perhaps not surprising that her art has a vaguely marine feel, and that this particular exhibition is titled Beneath The Surface; and when Reppe appears again, this time as Atlantis herself, it’s in a series of fabulous installation-style costumes, from a dress of lights that evokes the magical world of sea fish, via – among other things – a gorgeous evocation of Atlantis itself through a green cloak that transforms into a miniature landscape, to a rap session about genetics, featuring an outfit made of newspaper clippings and brown paper bags.

What’s delightful about Atlantis Banal, in other words, is that it both sends up some of the wilder aspects of conceptual art, and yet also celebrates the spirit of play and possibility, and the inspired re-framing of the ordinary, that drives the best of it. The show – co-directed by Charlot Lemoine of Velo Theatre in France – features powerful projected images, superb music by Fabien Cartolade, and a glorious triple performance from Shona Reppe at her gorgeous, absurdist best; and if it’s more of an exhibition than a play, that’s exactly the point, in a theatre event that celebrates what we do, at any age, when we’re simply having fun, and doodling in three dimensions about the magical world around us.

As one of Scotland’s great miniaturists, Shona Reppe would have no difficulty in recognising the world of the little creature at the heart of Fiona Oliver-Larkin’s Salt, one of two striking solo shows mentored, co-created and directed by leading Scottish physical theatre maker Al Seed, and presented this month as part of the autumn fringe theatre session at Assembly Roxy. Salt is a fascinating 50-minute piece about a little white-faced figure who lives under the kitchen table, is terrorised by thundering human footsteps overhead, and seems to regard salt – rather than air or water – as the main element in which she lives. At the end, there’s an escape of sorts; in a show that veers interestingly between menace and comedy, but finally seems slightly uncertain what to do with its vivid vision of a life that’s not quite human, but full of poignancy, nonetheless.

Estlin Love’s Bleach, by contrast, is a hugely intense and driven short show – barely 45 minutes long – that explores the fact of violence against women through spoken monologues, song and a stunning series of visual images, ranging from Estlin’s own unforgettable presence – archetypal ravaged girl crossed with raging punk diva – to her heart-searing use of images created by broken dolls laid out in front of a giant mirror. This show marks the emergence of a striking new stage talent in Scotland, with a story to tell, and energy and brilliance to burn; and the season at the Roxy continues this weekend with a revival of Annie George’s memorable 2018 Edinburgh Fringe show TWA, and next weekend with 2019 Fringe play Daphne, Or Hellfire, by young Scottish writer and director Isla Cowan.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Atlantis Banal is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Saturday. Salt and Bleach, runs completed. TWA until Saturday, and Daphne, Or Hellfire 29-30 November, both at Assembly Roxy, Edinburgh