Edinburgh International Festival 2023
Sometime in the near future, it is the end of the world as we know it. In their small city home, a family is about to spend their Sunday together, but the walls are shaking, strong winds and torrential rain rage outside and the storm has only just begun. Amidst this climatic chaos, the protagonists absurdly attempt to maintain a normal family life.
Meanwhile, somewhere else on the planet, three traveling wildlife reporters are doing their best to document the apocalypse. They film, with what little equipment they have, three wild animals on the brink of extinction.
Between dreamlike fiction and stark reality, Dimanche paints a witty and tender portrait of humanity surprised by the uncontrollable forces of nature.
August in Edinburgh may be the month of great festivals, but elsewhere in the world the climate crisis is causing chaos. This month much of Maui burned to the ground, torrential rains led to landslides in India, and, closer to the artistic celebrations in Scotland, Swedish environmental activist Greta Thunberg canceled her appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival, accusing investment firm, Ballie Gifford, one of that festival’s main sponsors, of greenwashing. Her refusal to attend the festival is not only a major disappointment to the many ticket buyers who quickly sold out her talk (her show was likely the hottest ticket outside of Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour) but also to this reviewer, who’d love to know what Thunberg would have made of Dimanche, Focus Company and Chaliwaté Company’s epic visual collaboration that dares to bring out the humor of the growing climate crisis. Dystopian humor, to be sure, but one that provokes constant laughter from its audience.
Dimanche is an expansion of Backup, a 25-minute play that was produced at Summerhall in 2018 and one of my favorite shows of that year’s Fringe. As a result, I was slightly worried that the amazing wit and wizardry of a fuller take on the story would not be as strong. I’m happy to report that my concerns were unfounded. Dimanche has grown Backup not only in duration but also in power.
A combination of puppetry, video, mime and clowning, the visuals in the nearly wordless Dimanche never cease to surprise during its 75-minute running time. The absurdly macabre storyline goes back and forth between three traveling nature documentarians facing the growing challenges of the changing world they are trying to film and a family simply trying to retain normalcy in their day-to-day lives. All the characters are played by co-writers and co-directors Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Hayraud, and they, along with puppeteers Joachim Jannin and Jean-Raymond Brassinne, create one stunning moment after another. Sharks, tornados, melting ice shelves, heat waves, polar bears, tsunamis, a handful of Paul Simon’s greatest hits: All here. The show is literally an explosion of vibrant creativity, joyful and yet also wickedly knowing, for what these creators know from keen observation and behavioral psychology is that we humans, the very animals at the root of the climate apocalypse, will simply do our best to normalize what is happening until we can normalize no more.
Amidst this amazing, entertaining artistry comes the inevitable question: Should we be laughing at the horrors that have arrived and the natural nightmare soon approaching? Greta Thunberg would likely be unamused, but she is not renowned for her alacrity. As for the rest of us, I believe that the talented creators of Dimanche know that making us laugh at our foibles may possibly be more effectual than being lectured. They can’t solve the climate crisis, but they can make us think more about it, and on a personal level.
Or maybe they think it’s already too late and that we might as well enjoy the days we have left. Near the show’s end a survivor of a flooded city plucks various items out of the water, including a now-useless clock. That message: Time’s up.