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Edinburgh Fringe 2019

The Desk

Reetta Honkakoski Company in association with From Start to Finnish

Genre: Physical Theatre

Venue: Summerhall


Low Down

“One teacher. Five students. Five desks. A powerfully compelling show about dogma. Director Reetta Honkakoski mines her personal lived experience of a cult in this meticulous ensemble piece about the seductive power of discipline, hierarchy, mind control and the search for an ultimate truth.”


A tall old-fashioned wooden desk is centre stage and five students are very curious about what’s inside. They each run to open it, glance inside and run away fast or jostle with their school friends. The five performers are wearing school uniforms with their hair tightly coiffed in plaits. Their leader has a different uniform and also a bit more personality than the students are allowed to have. This show is about living in a cult-like setting and following directions precisely when ordered by a powerful leader.

The physical activity around the desk by the group is mysterious and one of them finally claims it! Marching follows, always in step and to a pulsating sound score, it is all impeccably synchronised.

From time to time the students get out of hand by being competitive, which is wonderful to see, but they soon get back into the routine they must follow and seem to want to do so, to be obedient. Rousing classical music with playful flourishes drives the ritualistic discipline and five more desks are wheeled onstage, so they each have their own to move around the space in tight well drilled formations.

The development of this story mirrors how cults require their disciples to behave a certain way and to not question authority. Desk choreography with sprightly movement on and off and the competitiveness of the five students is interesting to watch.

The leader of this group has her own foibles and brings slight humour to an otherwise cool neutral faced chorus of five. The one-hour shows would benefit from some streamlining without losing the impact of the story, for example in each section there is much repetition of similar motifs and sequences. Well-executed unison of energetic movement is demonstrated throughout this show.

A highlight of the choreography and precision when the students read a book, is the extended and twisted movement in their seats holding their books high – this part is well designed and performed. A creative acrobatic sequence when reading their books, very slowly tumbling backwards one after the other off the seats of the desks is a perfect blend of physical skills and visual variety.

The show is a warning about giving up one’s rights and living under repression. The message is very clear – and the ending adds another dimension to the story!