Edinburgh Festival Fringe: The story of Princess Ivona is a very strange tale indeed, based on the mock-Shakespearean 1938 drama of the same name by the great Polish absurdist Wiltold Gombrowicz; and it forms the basis for what is, in its quiet way, one of the most unexpected shows on this year’s fringe.
Upper Church @ Summerhall hosted by RBC (Venue 26)
Performed in English by seven young actors in ordinary rehearsal clothes, this version of the tale by the young Tibaldus Collective from Belgium uses no set except the circle of chairs on which the audience sits, no special lighting, and no props except a toy crown.
Yet somehow, through the sheer vigour and invention of their physical performance, and the vocal power with which they deliver the text, they succeed in conjuring up the entire tragi-comic tale of the hideously ugly Princess to whom the Prince becomes engaged on a whim, and who soon becomes the focus for every stray dysfunctional emotion flying round the palace, from the Prince’s own petulant arrogance, to the King’s paranoid mistrust of his wife.
There’s a powerful parable for our times, in this story of how physical ugliness can easily and viciously become equated with moral defectiveness. And in Timeau de Keyser’s production, the role of Ivona is brilliantly and startlingly played by David van Dijcke, a towering, well-muscled male dancer who becomes Ivona simply by shutting down his facial expression, and adopting an unmistakable dragging limp.
And Ivona is not the only character in this show to announce herself and her character through a particular style of movement, like the kinetic equivalent of a theme tune; in a rare and fascinating show by a young collective bursting with talent, and with the courage to tell a strange and resonant story in a style that asks only for 95 minutes of our attention, and richly rewards it.