Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2004
*** / ***

Luk Perceval's version of Andromache is the most visually stunning and conceptually elegant offering so far in the Edinburgh International Festival's theatre programme. It has a stark, granite majesty that demands mute contemplation. And yet, when it ended after less than an hour, I was left wondering when the actual play would start.

Perceval's production (originally for the Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz of Berlin) places the five players atop a stone altar surrounded by an expanse of quite real broken glass, augmented by Hermione with a dozen or so more bottles' worth as the curtain slowly rises. One reason for the economy of movement is that if a performer fell off the altar they'd be cut to shreds.

The situation is among the bleakest and most tortured of the aftermath of the Trojan War: Hector's widow Andromache is wooed by her captor Pyrrhus, who deserts his long-promised bride-to-be Hermione, who is loved by Orestes, who arrives to murder Andromache's son (not present onstage), accompanied by his silent but calculating friend Pylades. The Greek poets and dramatists were expert in creating chains and labyrinths of desire and motivation, but this is one of the most complex.

As Andromache herself, Jutta Lampe is largely silent and immobile as those around her press their various cases to her and to each other. Luk and Peter Perceval's text is very indirectly derived from Racine's version, but de-Racinated of any poetry or elevation. Passions are pleaded with bald simplicity, devoid of fire. It's a grim portrayal of a situation rather than a drama: a stylistic commentary upon the story and the plays it has spawned rather than a presentation of it.

The same stage, cleared of glass, also hosted four late-night performances of Lebanese actress and artist Lina Saneh's 30-minute piece Biokhraphia. It's a clever piece of performance art in which Saneh is interviewed by her own tape-recorded voice about art, Lebanese society, censorship and truth. Gradually Saneh-onstage takes Saneh-on-tape's questioning into more abstruse areas and begins to execute her own performance as well as simply exchanging words with her avatar; in the end, the flesh-and-blood Saneh sits off to one side whilst the audiotaped Saneh interviews a video-projected Saneh. Then, without indicating the end of the piece, she sets up a stall by the exit offering miniature bottles of pastis for sale at £55 a time. I wish I'd had the nerve to pick a bottle up without paying, just to see what happened; I can do conceptual art too.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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