Edinburgh Fringe 2013
This is a performance of exquisite tragedy and beauty with music, puppetry, projections and acting of the highest standard. Bert is a miner who eventually gets chosen to fight for his country in World War I. His job is to tunnel under the enemy and set mines. One day he is caught in a blast with a young chap and is then responsible for one of their escapes whilst meeting a Demon below who is as unlike the Angel of Mons as you could imagine. Part of his future decisions and hopes of escaping to get back for his new born son become the background to his and our finale.
This is a superlative warning; expect many and I may run out of them. Bert is a miner who was unable to join up due to his heart. Eventually, when the army are less picky he is enlisted and leaving his young wife with child at home enthusiastically goes to serve his country. Just as he receives news that his wife has died in childbirth, Bert is trapped along with a new recruit. The Demon arrives and with an incredibly haunting soundtrack, wonderfully imagined puppetry, projection work that captures the underground work of his days and a set that is both multi functional as well as an expressive participant in the drama we get the story of one man caught in the tunnel of his nightmares.
I came in thinking what else could be said about World War I that has not already been told? Oh ye of little faith. This story of Bert’s passage from rejected patriot to a man likely to die for his country is what is left to be told. The personal and intimate stories of people whose lives can be lost under the magnitude of the suffering in World War I whilst being given to us through pure theatre is what is left to be told. At times poetic, and in many ways a new anthem for this doomed youth, Oliver Lansley’s script holds you and allows Alexander Wolfe’s music to then grip you in a theatrical hour the like of which I have not experienced for some time.
All of the performances and this is a very ensemble enfant terrible, hold your attention as the story is told, not alone by dialogue but supported by description. Bert’s narration never falters and between Alexander Scott, Elliott Rennie and Edward Cartwright we have what true ensemble work should resemble.
Sam Wyer’s set design is both sumptuous and frightening. The horrors of World War I are too well known but the use of a real set really pays dividends. No doubt every get in and get out, at frantic pace, can be tiring but it is worth every bead of sweat. I often despair at the lack of real sets on the Fringe and this is why. When you have one it adds so much more to the experience. Whilst I understand how concentrating on the words and performances can be intense and satisfying, the creative who gives you an impressive platform like this should be equally valued in any artistic team. The lighting design bounced off these ideas and Paul Green is to be commended for the subtlety with which he has applied his craft.
Between them, Oliver Lansley, James Seager and Jess Edwards have grown as an artistic team whilst at the helm of this relatively young company. Their CVs are highly impressive but it is the freshness with which their hands are evidently on the tiller that inspires. Truth be told they are so good, you can get a bit sick of them…
After an hour I saw people rise to applaud because ovation after ovation is what they deserve. The music, the acting, script, lighting, set, puppetry and projection – all in an hour and to such a high standard could leave you speechless. To a certain extent as I left the Pleasance I was. As I came out into the sunshine I was aware that I had seen a piece that had been lovingly crafted over time to allow its wrinkles to unfold and its team to delve deeper. It was a journey I could return to time and again.
The Fringe, by necessity, has a lot of performers cutting costs and trimming corners. There is not profit to be made in being at the Fringe in Edinburgh during August. The exposure you can get is perhaps what makes it all worthwhile. This company and this piece deserve as much exposure as possible.
I cannot find a single part of this to criticise. For an hour I sat with pen in hand, trying to note things down that I wanted to say. Their performance made me forget I was there to review and made me simply glad I had wandered in out of the sunshine. This was exquisite theatre at its best; simply exquisite.