Bestiaires (Traverse: 3 Feb.’14)

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Zeus is packed off, squashed into a crate marked ‘Fragile’, for sale to China – again.”

Editorial Rating:  Outstanding

Bestiaires is part of the Visual theatre Festival, 31 January to 8 February, at the Traverse Theatre. Edinburgh49 is reviewing four productions. Bestiaires was the opening show.

Mythology is flexible and so is foam rubber. This provides Duda Paiva and his company with all it needs to create Bestiaires or – for its Norwegian audience last September– Manbeast. The work is not a monster manual, although there’s a golden, hungry, Cerberus; nor is it really an outing for the properties of polyurethane/latex, although they’re wonderful; no, this is about the enduring life of the gods in our more secular time. The exclamation “For Gods’ sake!” is used often enough to make you think, sadly, of how they’re getting on.

Not too many gods – Cupid, Persephone, Hades, Zeus and Athene principally – and the Medusa, transformed from fit dancer, Ilija Surla, (that’s elasticity for you – check out your Pindar) to writhing Gorgon puppet. Nowadays all is far from well on Olympus. Death-dealing Hades has become western ‘civilisation’s’ best-selling export and Zeus is packed off, squashed into a crate marked ‘Fragile’, for sale to China – again. For the time being: a relative concept in this show of seventy memorable minutes – Cupid (Mart Müürisepp) holds the stage as rueful narrator and demi-Chorus: his bow, a long microphone lead; with a hip flask of whisky to lend him a dram of Dutch courage.

Nevertheless and in generous spirit (to restore Greek finances) Cupid would reunite a wilting Persephone and a Hades, who’s looking the other way at Medusa’s pects. Cue Hades’s immortal line: “You’re hot. You want to party?” There’s some easy morphing of Demeter and Persephone but no matter; what has real, unequivocal presence is the dancing of puppeteer and foam rubber puppet. By now, since 2004, this is the company trademark and it is exceptional. Video animation of spring flowers and unerring sound, musical and vocal, complete the impression that everything on stage is alive, not least those gods.

Ester Natzijl is literally inside the square head of Zeus who does not stand tall. Instead he’s reduced to amused contemplation of the F word, as applicable to his small condition, as in “Get me the F out of here!” or “What the F!”. Classically moulded Hades gets grossly fat and cannot regain his place. Three mouthed Cerberus may play ‘Fetch’ with Cupid’s wig but it can still get very dark out there. Put the mirror of eternal beauty in the hands of these gods and you invite trouble. Medusa and Athene dance in jealous, nightmarish combination.

There is a compilation of acts on called Break the Legend. Bestiaires is original work of high quality that would do just that. Zeus, unfazed by market conditions in China, gives a homily on love – of all his attributes, the least familiar – that has probably held him together since those titan wars. It must be the magic quality of that rubber for, as Duda Paiva puts it, “I’m just fascinated by foam, because it is generous, it is about generosity.  It’s such a giver.”

In a respectful word: awesome!


Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 3 February)

Visit Duda Paiva Company homepage here.