Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Land Without Words
Venue: The Caves
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
This parable by multi-award winning German writer Dea Loher explores the impossibility – through painting – of representing a place where war and hardship are everyday. It is bravely performed and imaginatively staged and the writing delves deep into the heart of the meaning of Art.
A painter in her studio, lying on scaffold surrounded by piles of earth and bottles of water. She takes her top off and proceeds to wax lyrical about the creation of art after visiting Afganistan: ‘All objects and forms must be abandoned.’ And wonders: ‘Why are there so few female painters?’ She understands she must suffer for her art:’ The pain has got to be there, always present, and the joy.’ As if in order to achieve what she wants she must feel both at the same time. She has a microphone that she picks up every so often, detachedly talking into it as if commenting on herself: Once you have been to the city of ‘K’ (in Afghanistan), ‘…you are stuck. You are stuck once you have been’. Because ‘War doesn’t happen in a picture.’
Middle Eastern music comes up, she puts on her shawl and begins to recount stories to us when she was at her most troubled yet also gained inspiration. As she does so she crawls through the piles of earth and pours water on herself in self-deprecating glee.
Although it tends to make its point a little too forcefully sometimes and repeat itself, this is indeed not only a finely written play but an exposition that focuses specifically on the eternal task and duty of the artist. How does one make a picture that encompasses war, poverty and suffering? This artist thinks she may find it in her psychological meanderings but in the end asks again: ‘Where is the pain, and the joy.’
Lucy Ellinson is excellent as the artist and with an underlying wit is fully immersed in her performance. The production values are also refreshingly rough in the old fashioned sense. She gets filthy in her soul searching but it is never excessive; rather it stimulates spiritually the content and is always emotionally linked to the imagery and theory she poetically expounds. The scaffolding that is used is a simple yet effective tool that raises her on a pedestal, isolating her semi-naked body in space and highlighting its fragility as mere (artistic) flesh and bone. The microphone is also effective as an outside voice in occasionally relieving her torment.
If we’re going to get dirty, perhaps some actual paint would have added some colour and light to the dark heart of this piece. Anyhow, this company have produced a bold and gracious staging of this play and Ellinson and the unusual set keep it watchable and unpretentious.