Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
August, 2004
*** / **

Andrew Buckland and his South African company Mouthpeace have been periodic August visitors to the Traverse in Edinburgh for some years now, winning a clutch of awards for shows such as Bloodstream and The Ugly Noo Noo. The Bucklands (for this production is directed by Andrew's wife Janet and co-stars son Daniel) specialise in telling socially and ecologically aware stories with an exuberant, often irreverent physical performance style.

However, one's put rather on one's guard to read that their latest offering Fuse mixes meditations on ritual slaughter with Douglas Hofstadter's book Gödel, Escher, Bach. One is right to be wary. Buckland has created an unfocused tale of a near-future in which mankind is wiped out by a rogue doomsday virus, and a pair of laboratory rats attempt to reconstruct the human race by cloning their idiot-savant lab assistant. The 55-minute piece combines the expected messages we need to work together and be careful with the planet and the slightly less so there can be a beauty in complex symbol systems. But it feels more like an exercise than a proper production; you leave as you went in, still looking forward hopefully to the next real Mouthpeace show.

At least Mouthpeace have that reputation to see them through lean Edinburgh times. Oslo's new-writing venue Det Åpne Teater doesn't even have that strong an identity here, despite previous Fringe success with Like Thunder in 2001. Seen in isolation, Tord Akerbæk's Bima And Bramati is just bewilderingly poor and derivative.

Two figures sit suspended in swinging chairs. Their legs taper together into a mess of hoses and cabling which disappears into a duct. Are they cyborgs? Some kind of techno-mermen? No, this is just designer Chris Lightfoot's oblique way of portraying a pair of multiple amputees (with twelve fingers between them) in an intensive-care ward. It fits the unreality of the writing, which begins with sophomore existentialism and then shades into third-rate early Samuel Beckett. It does, though, make rather a nonsense of what is being discussed, which is their plan to break for freedom by riding painstakingly on one of their wheeled beds. Er, what wheeled beds? Maybe that's the point: the whole conversation is meaningless from the start. Well, I'm afraid we didn't need to be led to that conclusion by the design; we, unlike Bima and Bramati, could get there all on our own.

Written for the Financial Times.

Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.

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