Fringe performance

Herald Scotland / Mary Brennan

Maybe it’s the chain that hangs from the ceiling, maybe it’s the drain in the centre of the floor but – bearing in mind Summerhall’s past incarnation as a veterinary school – it’s hard not to muse on what used to be shown in the close quarters of the Demonstration Room.

The thought then occurs that, whatever Clout Theatre get up to in the course of their show, it will probably look bizarrely at home here. And it does. What Clout’s trio of sinisterly shabby, scabrous grotesques demonstrate is a gleeful engagement with the Absurdist writings of Daniil Kharms. They clown around with murder, contort themselves into paranoid panic (and a suitcase), and create a vivid jump-cutting shorthand of freeze-frame tableaux, projected phrases and rude drollery that deftly echoes Kharms’s own style. All three are as slippery as eels, shifting in and out of moods and situations with such pleasing ease that when Kharms’s watchword “That’s enough of that” flashes up, you want to yell “Oh no it’s not!”

The somewhat echoey acoustic of the Demonstration Room really doesn’t do any favours to Jenna Watt’s conversational delivery but what she describes, and what she confides with such unhistrionic frankness, has you listening intently for every word. An unwarranted attack on a friend led her to make Flaneurs, but as she probes beyond notions of “safe streets” and “no-go areas”, she lures us into considering our own behaviour. Not simply how we might protect ourselves – a voice-over has some hints – but what we would do, or more likely not, as a bystander. With minimal props and some touchingly child-like back-projections, Watt gently engineers a foray into the loss of innocence that violence inflicts, and not only on the victim. For such an affable, generous and beguiling performance, it packs a clever punch.

There are times during this latest neTTheatre production where information overload threatens to shut down our capacity to follow what’s happening on-stage. And yet, it is this welter of film footage, projections, spoken text (often in Polish, with English surtitles) on top of live performance that brings a 21st century energy and perspective to the ancient, mystical Jewish culture that is at the heart of Pawel Passini’s production. Within a constantly re-configured set of wooden frames, a painter is portrayed as akin to Job – at the mercy of an ever-inventive Satan. The cycle of persecution is further evoked by the processional imagery of trudging figures that we associate with Kantor, even as a trio of bubble-wigged singers nods at pop culture. A bright-voiced child reads the age-old words of Kabbalah and projected diagrams flash up a molecular structure that connects God and Man in a dialogue of enlightenment. And even if much of this washes over you at the time, the look and sound of it all impresses and lingers.

Post-war Britain: “homes for heroes” were in short supply and the high-rise block, attuned to the modernist aesthetics of Le Corbusier, seemed an ideal solution. The gung-ho optimism of this 50’s vision is nicely caught by the four-strong company of Let Slip, as is the subsequent downward spiralling into disenchantment when the concrete towers fall into disrepair, the local authority cuts back on maintenance and the Brutalist ideology of the original architects now houses the brutality of gang violence and crime.

Not every character cameo manages to move beyond hasty stereotype, and the elements of movement sometime feel nailed onto the text, in memory of the company’s Lecoq training. But a complex history of architectural trends, planning blight and community schism is intelligently compressed into a lively, entertaining hour made all the more cogent by the various construction projects currently besetting Edinburgh.