EPISTLE TO YOUNG ACTORS / LUCIA MELTS
The Hub, Edinburgh
August, 2004
** / ****

A recent augmentation to the Edinburgh International Festival's programme has been the strand of events labelled Royal Bank Lates: 10.30pm performances of various music and theatre pieces, often one-offs, with a flat ticket price of £5. A number of these events have taken place inside the vaulted performance space of the Festival's permanent premises, the converted kirk at the top of the Royal Mile which is now known as The Hub.

Like the Festival's main programme itself, the Lates' bill of fare can encompass a whole range of material. For instance, about as often as I rise to my feet at the end of a show once every couple of years or so I feel compelled to boo. Not usually on quality grounds, but at offensive content. Olivier Py's Epistle To Young Actors had me calling out (almost audibly), "Loathsome, reactionary, hieratic, sophomore guff!" because, well, it was. Py the director who had inflicted eleven hours of Paul Claudel's Le Soulier de Satin on us the previous week has written what I think he imagines as a call to intellectual and spiritual arms. He wants to rediscover the mysterious power of the dramatic Word. This is a communion of inititates, entirely distinct from the rest of modern culture from sport to comedy to opera(!), and indeed is explicitly associated with the Catholic logos. In the course of an hour, Py's protagonist the Poet (John Arnold) debates with a number of straw-man interlocutors such as the Killjoy, the Cultural Official and the Modern Pig (all played by Olivier Balazuc). The Poet may not triumph unambiguously, may even be a figure of fun himself, but we're left in no doubt that Py believes he's right. It's the most ideologically repugnant piece of work I've seen in some time.

As odious and rarefied as Epistle was, so refreshing and natural was Lucia Melts several nights earlier. I say "natural" despite the visual conceit of being staged, in the round, on a white carpet into which was woven the floor plan of an apartment which had previously been shared by the now-separated couple in Oscar van den Boogaard's 80-minute play. The naturalism comes from the fact that actors Sara De Roo and Steven Van Watermeulen from Antwerp-based company Tg STAN were at once playing the scene and, in various asides and gestures, acknowledging that they were performers playing to 120 or so people. It could have been either stagily self-conscious or coldly Brechtian, but it was so unforced that it added to the humanity of the characters rather than detracting from them.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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