‘Blackbird’ (Summerhall: 26 February – 1 March ’14)

“An outstanding performance from both cast and crew… the kind of production which makes it impossible to imagine the play in anyone else’s hands”

Editorial Rating: Outstanding

First performed in 2005, Blackbird is a terrifying play.  It’s terrifying because of its subject matter: a sexual relationship between a 12-year-old girl and a middle-aged man.  It’s terrifying because it highlights the lifelong consequences, both for the victim and her abuser.  But more than that, it’s terrifying because it dares to ask some forbidden questions – evoking just the slightest touch of sympathy for the devil, and challenging us to wonder how a once-decent man can possibly have fallen so far.  It’s morally troublesome, sexually explicit, and profoundly disturbing at times.

A decade after her defilement – and now a young woman – Una returns unexpectedly, determined to confront her abuser Ray.  Ray, in the meantime, has admitted his sins and served his time in prison, and seems to have re-built a modestly respectable life.  But that, of course, isn’t quite the full story; at the heart of the play is a series of well-paced revelations, which lead the audience through the gamut of possible responses to such a shocking tale.  And they’re all delivered through a single, credible dialogue, a masterclass in exposition done well.

But all that counts for nothing if the actors aren’t up to the task – and in Greg Wagland and Romana Abercromby, Blackbird finds the cast such a challenging script demands.  Both actors bring a reckless intensity to their roles, an urgent mutual desire to tell their shared tale.  As Una, Abercromby is sassy and bold, coolly aware of the power she now wields – a veneer which makes it all the more shocking when the true impact of the abuse is finally revealed.  Wagland, meanwhile, presents a desperate, imploring Ray, yet shows a hint of imperiousness too; it’s a many-layered performance, that delivers a lot more subtlety than first meets the eye.

While the principal actors each have their moments in the spotlight, the pivotal scene belongs to Abercromby.  As Una recalls how her life unravelled, she’s helped by Jon Beales’ haunting sound design – which carries just enough echoes of a seaside town at midnight to transport us into her painfully-remembered world.  It’s details like that which make this production so impressive, and Abercromby’s words are perfectly synchronized with the soundscape.  The whole play, in fact, is flawlessly well-performed.

Firebrand Theatre bill their production as a “site-specific staging”, which is rather stretching the point, but director Richard Baron does make excellent use of the unconventional space at Summerhall.  He turns the old-style lecture theatre into a claustrophobic and uncompromising arena – a courtroom where the audience sits in uneasy judgement on both accuser and accused.  And Baron and the actors have crafted a restlessly physical performance, using constant movement to stoke the pressure without ever feeling unnatural or forced.

If there’s a criticism to make of Harrower’s script, it’s that his symbolism is often heavy-handed: the sordid nature of the story is reflected by a squalid, rubbish-strewn stage.  And the narrative stops more than it ends, as though even the playwright didn’t know quite how to respond to his worrying final revelation.  But this is an outstanding performance from both cast and crew – the kind of production which makes it impossible to imagine the play in anyone else’s hands.  Firebrand’s reputation preceded them to Edinburgh, and it’s clear that reputation is very much deserved.

outstanding

Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 27 February)

Visit Firebrand Theatre homepage here.

‘Four Steps Back’ (Summerhall: 27 February – 1 March ’14)

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Four Steps Back was presented by the University’s English Literature Department Play in support of Voluntary Service Overseas in order to support disadvantaged communities.

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

At the bar of the Royal Dick gastropub, in the heart of Europe’s largest privately-owned arts complex, Robert McDowell the man who makes Summerhall happen, is tucking into steak done rare. “The secret of a good production,” he opines, “is that it uses, rather than hides, the space it’s in.”

“He’s not wrong” I think as later that night when the Current Mrs Dan and I take our seats in the Red Lecture Theatre. Strung right across the space is a washing line bedecked in glittering crimsons and saffrons – there is also a paisley Knightsbridge scarf which I am sure I saw in Armstrongs not so long back. The lighting is moody, the divide between house lights and stage is blurred.

Rekha, the first in a line up of four short new scripts, is a reflection on the human scale of great conflicts. Rajesh (powerfully played by Satnaam Dusanj) recounts the story of how he and his childhood playmate, Rekha, got caught up in an outbreak of interreligious violence while out playing. Rajesh’s innocent love of Rekha is beyond the ken of his brother Sanjay, who is old enough and wise enough to know that hatred trumps all else.

The brooding Dusanj is perfectly contrasted by the gleeful mischief of Arrti Singh in the title role. From the moment she enters through the audience she captivates, conjuring up both the reality and Rajesh’s idealised memories of Rekha. Sporting a magnificent pair of braided pigtails, suggestive that the Vikings and their valkyries might have sailed up the Sutlej, Singh gives as well as takes leaving space and pace in all the right places.

Alexei Veprentev as Sanjay and Maria Kheyfets as Indrani are the icing on the cake, squeezing every drop of nuance from writer Michael Chakraverty’s complex simplicity.

Rekha would be a very sombre piece, except that producers hit upon two veins of comic gold: small and playful actress poking her head through the glittering crimsons and saffrons on the washing line as she hides and seeks with Rajesh; as well as bearded actor playing a nine year old having a strop at his mum for not letting him go out and have fun. It’s the bitter sweet tamarind in the mix that brings out the darker flavours.


The staging for Maria Williamson’s Leaving Mary could not be more different. Dezie is sitting on a capacious armchair having his fine head of hair combed by his wife, Mary. Dezie is a talker with a well polished repertoire of blarney. Mary is quieter, stiller waters running deep. Already there is divergence between what is spoken and unspoken.

When their son Michael visits home from London, bringing with him their grandson Danny, the gulf widens and Mary’s struggle with dementia become more apparent. Michael’s domestic situation, he is separated from Danny’s mother, drags up old issues relating to Mary’s postnatal depression and Dezie’s love of the drink. In her confusion Mary struggles to delineate past traumas from present pain.

If there is justice in the world then it will not be long before Leaving Mary starts being mentioned in the same breath as Conor McPherson’s The Weir which I first saw on a visiting weekend in 1997. “But it’s just people sitting around telling stories.” I whined to my own father, also Michael, as we took a walk round Sloane Square during the interval. “Ah Danny,” came his response, “would that not be the point?”

Angela Milton as Mary provides the evening’s most sophisticated performance. When she moves, she moves. When she’s still, she’s still. She inhabits the character most successfully. Never does she allow us to feel pity for Mary. She captures the essential tragedy sure enough, but her reactions to her fellow players are what put her performance into orbit.

As Dezie (Toby Williams) and his pal Leo (Joey Thurston) talk through their problems in the local we know exactly who they are talking about. This is not just because Williamson is such a phenomenal sketcher of personality and persona, but because Milton has breathed life into every aspect of her character.

Daniel Omnes as Michael completes this well rounded ensemble, delivering the cosmopolitan contrast which so unsettles Dezie.


Toby Williams makes his second appearance of the night as Callum in A Fortiori. Dale Neuringer’s kitchen sink drama chronicles Laura’s passage through shiva, the ritualised Jewish mourning period. Laura’s husband has died suddenly, her brother-in-law Callum is the last house caller of four who have each undertaken the mitzvah of a home visit to the bereaved.

As with Laura’s friends Caroline (Jillian Bagriel) and Melinda (Emeline Beroud) as well as her mother (Lorraine McCann), Callum has an agenda all his own, somewhat removed from Laura’s immediate needs as a grieving widow. Neuringer unflinchingly examines how we express our innate self absorption even in our supposed altruism.

The staging is the most involved of the night – shelves and nick-nacks, tables and chairs, portions of comfort food and the essential covered mirror. The effect is to centre the drama, focusing the energy onto Blanca Siljedahl as Laura. As she is buffeted by unwelcome advice from her nearest and dearest Siljedahl maintains an introspective repose which not even the expanding buffet can penetrate.

It’s a shame the mirror hangs on the far stage right wall and is not free standing. The Current Mrs Dan (a shiksa) doesn’t notice the business of each visitor uncovering it to check their reflection. It’s a great device, as is McCann’s use of air freshener to intimate Laura’s mother’s fussy intrusion as she starts cleaning the house.

McCann, a stalwart of the Edinburgh Graduate Theatre Group, has a flawless accent, just as Beroud does a great line in first world problems. I’m just not sure the cast have remembered the funny though. Siljedahl establishes and maintains a great sounding board, but the comic echos don’t come through. We don’t need to live her grief so exactly.

The disconnect between Neuringer’s script and director Matthew Jebb’s staging is to be lamented. On a double bill with Leaving Mary there is serious potential for a successful Fringe run. But the round peg of dark Jewish comedy needs to be much better fitted into the square peg of ‘50s era British social realism.


Blitzed by Rebecca Leary closes the night with a bang. Sarah lives in a fantasy world. With the bombs of WWII falling all around her neighbourhood, who can blame her? In the aftermath of a particularly hard pounding Sarah’s sister, Toffy, tries to reach her in more ways than one.

Blitzed was the least ready of the four performances. I was never entirely sure what was going on. Who is Lizzie, the other worldly girl always on stage but only acknowledged by Sarah? Is she real, was she ever? Why is Sarah so disconnected from her family, even though they live so close by? What has become of the menfolk away fighting?

If feels like the script has been foreshortened to fit into the night and that quite a lot of essential signposting (as happened in wartime) has been removed to disorientate the enemy. According to the programme Leary’s original intention had been to present the play in Dundonian dialect. The alien phonetics were removed though, the thinking being that the results would be too confusing for civilized Edinbuggers.

As it was a claustrophobic script was hesitantly presented. By the end understanding what was being said seemed of slender consequence. Ideally, time would have permitted flashbacks and context to enlighten the plot. As it was the script could have been much more artfully tailored to contour what could be shown in the time allowed.

Hopefully, with a greater supply of props, script and theatrical devices the tightly packed, closely guarded mysteries of the play can be revealed to the waiting world.


Four Steps Back was presented in support of Voluntary Service Overseas in order to support disadvantaged communities. More information can be found at www.vso.org.uk

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 27 February)

Visit Four Steps Back homepage here.

1933: Eine Nacht im Kabarett (Summerhall: 22 Jan. – 2 Feb.)

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 … determined to enjoy a decadently subversive cabaret’ ? 

Editorial Rating: Unrated

It’s 30 January, 1933: the day President Hindenburg made his fateful, fatal choice, and appointed Adolf Hitler as the Chancellor of Germany.  That night, a group of citizens and foreigners gather at a Berlin club – determined to enjoy a decadently subversive cabaret, while that pleasure’s still permitted to them.  And we’re invited too.

1933: Eine Nacht im Kabarett is essentially two shows rolled into one.  There’s the cabaret itself, up on the stage; and there’s the back-story, played out at the bar and at the tables, by actors who walk and sit among the audience.  It’s an ambitious and challenging production which dares to break some sacred rules, but unfortunately, it adds up to less than the sum of its parts.

The cabaret itself is nothing short of a delight.  David McFarlane and Calum MacAskill are multi-talented performers, playing dancing brown-shirts or failing magicians with equal, expressive ease.  Hazel DuBourdieu delivers a bravura performance as the ironic “perfect German girl”, while master of ceremonies Bev Wright is a dissolute, self-destructive dominatrix.  The original score, which Wright co-wrote with Fiona Thom, is just as well-matched to the milieu: sometimes it’s poignant, sometimes it’s rousing, and sometimes it’s a little sordid too.

So 1933 hits a lot of the right notes, but not always in the right order.  The opening is both lengthy and awkward; it’s not immediately clear whether we’re watching a painfully-misjudged shambles, or a sharply-observed satire.  It takes too long to get acquainted with all the key characters, perhaps because there are simply too many of them.  And most of all, the first half lacks the feel of reckless escapism that the setting demands: we’re told the Hitler Youth is marching in the streets outside, but little sense of danger spills over into the room.

The scene finally snaps into focus after the interval, with the arrival of Nazi official Captain Vöhner – deftly played by a commanding Andy Corelli.  As Vöhner seats himself very visibly among the crowd, our role as the audience becomes an increasingly uncomfortable one.  At one point we’re asked to sing along to a catchy ditty, lampooning Hitler’s rise to power, and the whole room turned a nervous eye to Vöhner’s table.  Would he see the funny side?

For the most part though, 1933 sits in a frustrating middle ground, making unconventional demands of the audience without granting corresponding freedoms.  Daringly, playwright-director Susanna Mulvihill often has two dialogues happen simultaneously, one at each end of the room.  But you have no choice which to listen to; stuck in your seat at a cabaret table, you may well find a crucial character-defining conversation being drowned out by small-talk at the table next door.  It’s true to life, certainly – but it’s not a satisfying way to tell a story.

And on a larger scale, too, Mulvihill’s script often has too much going on.  Overall, she needs the help of a fearless editor: someone who can cut the repetition, bring a tighter focus to the storyline, and point out the places where her messages grow overly obscure.

1933 is a fascinating experiment, with some genuine highlights both on the floor and on the stage.  It’s a shame it doesn’t quite hold together.

Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 24 January)

Visit 1933: Eine Nacht im Kabarett homepage here.

‘The Birds’ (Summerhall: 14-16 Nov ’13)

“Josephy McAulay is Bowie-esque as Tereus, King of the Birds. Flamboyant yet balanced. He owns the stage but is prepared to share.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

Rosy fingered dawn breaks through the floor to ceiling windows of the Edinburgh49 conference room. Scylla and Charybdis have nothing on our esteemed editor when she’s on the warpath. If you’re lucky she’ll just turn you to stone gorgon-style. If not you’ll find yourself clutching a short straw waiting in line to see something so bad the shade of Achilles would thank his lucky stars he gets to flit about all day in the underworld.

But I’m in luck! Not only have I not been turned to stone (rock hard abs aside) but I’m in the queue to see Edinburgh University Classics Society (EUCS) performing Aristophanes, and I love Aristophanes. I love Aristophanes so much I have an autographed poster of Douglas M. MacDowell on my wall.

What is it reasonable to expect from students producing work likely to fall among their set texts? Obviously a solid, even reverential approach from young minds absorbed in the comic genius of ancient knob gags and innuendo – in your endo. But if you’re anticipating ropey acting, adequate costumes and limited choreography – you’d be wrong. Far from delivering an earnest but ham-dram performance, this production of Emily Ingram and Lauren Moreau’s adaptation of The Birds is well on the road to the Dionysia.

We enter to find Summerhall’s demonstration room bathed in dry ice. A piano keyboard sits upstage right and drawings of birds are pinned aside the chalkboard (also featuring a bird). This helps to illustrate that The Birds is about Birds. Or rather it is about two Athenian wideboys convincing the King of the Birds to blockade Olympus by stopping smoke rising to heaven from sacrifices offered to the gods by men.

Euan Dickson is Pisthetaerus, the brains behind the operation. Max Cumming as Euelpides is his birdbrained confederate. Aristophanes deploys their self-imposed (or maybe self-preserving) exile as a means to take satirical target at the foibles of his fellow Athenians. Where other adaptations might have entirely respun these comic threads into contemporary cloth, here the antique flavours are preserved. As opposed to the coach-tour approach of say, Fringe landmark Shakespeare for Breakfast, this production is free of naff pop-culture references (actually, there is one but it is essential to the plot). The audience, composed largely of classicists, is expected to make the ascent unaided.

Plenty of spectacle lines the script’s path so that even my companion, despite being a semi-barbarous science type, is never lost. Josephy McAulay is Bowie-esque as Tereus, King of the Birds. Flamboyant yet balanced. He owns the stage but is prepared to share. And there is plenty of talent to go round. Some great character work is on offer from Jacob Close (calm, pacy – the ideal foil to Dickson), Byron Jaffe (a middle order master of horizontal bat shots) and Matthias Vollhardt as the wandering poet lost in himself reminded me so much of Thom Dibdin I nearly fell off my bench in surprise.

A quick look down the cast & crew list suggests The Birds might be a rather plummy affair. Fortunately Rachel Bussom (as Tereus’ consort, Procne) and Jodie Mitchell (as his deadpan, pun-dropping doorkeeper) provide laconic counterpoise to the home counties Attic. While the chaps are larking about, they prick egos on stage and off – scorching without burning. Bussom is the best thing we’re likely to see before Jennifer Saunders returns in the second series of Blandings.

Birds in general, and the birds in The Birds in particular, are a showy order of creature. All feathers and dance steps, they’re never happier than when being admired. Tereus’ court centres on his spectacular daily cabaret. It’s a fantastically tall order for a production staged in a rather dreary auld lecture theatre. The dance routines were devised to look impressive without over-taxing the mixed company. Colourful (if malting) feather boas combine with garish, lacy things from the parts of Primark unseen by men to raunchercise proceedings – as does Gaia Arcagni (whose charming physical range runs the full gamut from crow to flamingo). Tamsyn Lonsdale-Smith all but steals the show with her brilliantly conceived entrance as Iris, floating in on the herculean arms of her devoted attendants.

The Birds is not without its shortcomings. The cast are under-directed when not centre stage. Dickson and Cumming do not blend into the background and their slapstick needs much polishing, as do Cumming’s shoes. The production is too prop light. The business necessary to successfully be off stage while on it is absent. Several of the birds decide to take up smoking for want of anything better to do – if they had wings instead of fingers the result could not be any clumsier. The pianist is utterly lost amid the hilarity with little to do. Either he needs a mask, or a bell with which to mark the passing of each bird-related pun. The venue acoustics are awkward and some are managing better than others.

This is a production deserving a much longer run. Over the course of a Fringe it would be polished and perfected so that it might exceed the success of the original 414 BC outing of The Birds and claim first prize. Even so, much effort has gone in and more that is clever, witty and insightful has come out. This is a great production which you’ll remember fondly even when pinned down by angry Spartans in a walled orchard listening to goatsong.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 15 November)

Visit The Birds homepage here.

‘The Tailor of Inverness’ (Summerhall: 1-2 Nov ’13)

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Image by Tim Morozzo

“the energy boils over from time to time, and a handful of moments of great poignancy felt rushed and under-sold”

Much acclaimed on its earlier runs at the Edinburgh Fringe, The Tailor Of Inverness tells the true life story of the late Mateusz Zajac… who was also performer and playwright Matthew Zajac’s dad.  Displaced from his home in eastern Poland at the onset of the Second World War, Zajac senior’s travels took him across numerous battlefields, before he finally settled in the north of Scotland and lived out the remainder of his life as a respected local craftsman.  It’s a complex tale, but well-judged projections in the background help keep track of the tailor’s journey through life, as he voyages from Poland to war in Africa and a C&A factory in Glasgow.

But here’s the thing.  If you’re over the age of – let’s say – thirty-five, the chances are that you grew up listening to no less fascinating wartime tales. There is a reason to tell Zajac’s story above most others, but the script waits far too long to show the trump cards in its hand.  Too much time early on is given over to the bones of the eponymous tailor’s narrative, which is engaging and sometimes thought-provoking but not, on cold analysis, particularly exceptional.

And the latter parts of the play are disappointingly factual.  Thanks to its extensive use of documentary video recordings, the production feels more than anything like an edition of Who Do You Think You Are?, depriving it of some of the impact a more theatrical approach could have engendered.  It’s particularly sad that we hear so little from the tailor’s character during this second part of the play; the set-up seems perfect for a speculative analysis of his motivations, but some obvious questions about why he behaved the way he did remain almost entirely unexplored.

Actor-playwright Matthew Zajac has earned many deserved plaudits for his role in this play.  His mix of Polish and Scottish accents is a particular delight, and his physical performance is utterly dauntless.  But, five years after he first performed his script, he may have lost a little subtlety – the energy boils over from time to time, and a handful of moments of great poignancy felt rushed and under-sold.  The script also tends to over-use the device of jumping into the middle of an intense scene, a technique which loses its effectiveness when it’s deployed too often.

The Tailor Of Inverness is a fine history lesson – you’ll learn a great deal about how the borders of Eastern Europe were drawn – and an inspiring tale of a loving son’s efforts to piece together the past.  But there’s something missing: a moral, perhaps, or a clear sense of purpose.  The tailor appeals to us to accept him for who he is – at once a Pole, a Ukrainian, a Russian, and a Scot – but aside from Nazi ideologues, nobody in the play seems to have any problem doing exactly that.  This is a story well told, but it’s frustratingly hard to pin down quite what it wants to teach us.

 

Reviewer: Richard Stamp (Seen 1 November)

‘Paul Bright’s Confessions of a Justified Sinner’ (Summerhall: 17-26 Oct ’13)

Paul Bright's Confessions prod 2 credit Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Image by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

“It is with wry humour, almost touched with disappointment, that the 1987-89 history of Confessions is presented.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

This intriguing piece is ‘reconstructed’ by Untitled Projects. Any reassuring solidity provided by co-producers, National Theatre of Scotland, is shaky for this is a bit of a shape-shifter. It provides dramatic form, of that multi-media sort, to James Hogg’s astonishing Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner, published anonymously in 1824, and to the afflicted, near mad, efforts of actor/director Paul Bright in the late 1980s to put this resurgent, mind-bending, novel onto some kind of stage. It helps a lot if you accept the invitation to go to the four room exhibition – downstairs at the Summerhall – both before and after the show. It’s stark down there but there is much of real interest: archive film footage; Fringe fliers, past reviews, stuffed corbies – that substantiate what you will see/ have seen. And there’s a welcome wee dram to close with.

The host – actor George Anton – does it all, introducing Hogg’s book, introducing himself, meditating on acting, chronicling the history of Bright’s work, playing Bright in impassioned bursts, telling of their time together. He is well qualified to do so as Bright’s co-actor in three (of six ‘Episodes’ of the Confessions) and as his friend, which was clearly – in retrospect at least – one hell of a job.

A large screen assists all the while, showing captions, film – mostly grainy, jumpy and silent – various artefacts, and here-and-now interviews with others who knew and worked with Bright. If you know the book, then the split-screen, Gilmartin/Wringhim, Bright/Anton, doppelgänger scenes are especially successful; not least when you learn that Bright (brought up in Ettrick; but that is Ettrick, Kwa-Zulu Natal, & not Hogg’s Ettrick near Selkirk) had a twin brother who drowned when they were swimming together.

Bright protested Nature above Psychology and he would have his theatre ‘alive, dirty and dangerous’ and that does act against this production which is more intelligent composition, reflective anecdote and report than anything more forward or disturbing. It is with wry humour, almost touched with disappointment, that the 1987-89 history of Confessions is presented. The third Episode, ‘Trials’, was staged at the Queen’s Hall as original Scottish drama and as part of the Edinburgh International Festival . It was a ghastly trial for everyone, lasting nine hours and was a disaster: ‘an incomprehensible and pretentious assault on Scotland’s literary heritage’ was John Gross’s opinion in the Sunday Telegraph.

Unsurprisingly the last Episode 6, ‘The Road to the Suicide’s Grave,’ never happened. However,  here’s the real, valedictory, reconstruction that this production achieves. Paul Bright died in Brussels in 2010 at the age of forty-seven and up on the screen appears a fair sized box that George Anton got in the post from Belgium. It contained personal effects: notebooks, sketches, Bright’s copy of Hogg’s Confessions and a tape from a telephone answering machine. Listen to the message on that tape, watch the appreciably long final sequence and you understand that it is all underscored by affection for a lost friend who could not let go of an impossible project.

‘What can this work be?’ asks Hogg’s editor at the end of the sinner’s memoirs. ‘I cannot tell’ is his conclusion. Actor George Anton, writer Pamela Carter and director Stewart Laing create something more tangible of Paul Bright’s Confessions and in the end more definitive.

nae bad_blue

‘The Lives of the High-Rise Saints’ (Summerhall: 10 – 12 Oct ’13)

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Image by pawlowicz.art.pl

“Anyone who has worked on a DIY project will know that there are always bits left over, and this is the starting point of Ameijko’s work. God’s work took six days and on the seventh day he rested – but on the seventh day the flotsam and jetsam from creation gathered together in a tower block.”

Editorial Rating: Unrated 

The Lives of The High-Rise Saints brings a wide range of disciplines to the Summerhall stage. This one woman puppetry show from Agata Kucinska reaches into the reject pile of society to examine the inner strength that people can find to get through their lives.

Many of the visuals are slightly twisted away from the norm, and the inventiveness behind the design is a delight to see. The performance is a technical tour de force that uses everything from very small rod puppets through to larger human-arm puppets, and even Kucinska donning a mask and puppet limbs to physically take on one of the roles herself.

The story itself, adapted from the work of the same name by Poland’s Lidla Amejko, is both dark and challenging. Anyone who has worked on a DIY project will know that there are always bits left over, and this is the starting point of Ameijko’s work. God’s work took six days and on the seventh day he rested – but on the seventh day the flotsam and jetsam from creation gathered together in a tower block. Trusting only in themselves, they scrape out a living at the fringe of society, a motley band of wastrels, tortured souls, and dubious morals, sharing the tales of their lives with each other and the audience.

On the surface there is little to love about these characters. Rejected by the rest of the world, it is very easy to gloss over them on stage and write them off, but this slow burn of characterisation through individual vignettes is countered by the love and energy Kucinska brings to the stage. You approach each character with trepidation and an almost grotesque curiosity before slowly being pulled into their world.

It’s backed with an inventive live sound-scape that mixes foley effects and music to highlight the sadness of this world. This contrasts well with the small moments of joy each character has to look for to break the monotony of their life with brief bursts of joy and satisfaction.

You need to make that journey to appreciate the small moments that make their lives bearable, but the experience and repetition as the script moves through the roll call left me with a sense of exploitation and horror. This is not an easy performance to watch, but it is layered, thoughtful, and has much to say.

Technically Kucinska has mastered the many facets of puppetry used throughout the show, but with the grotesque nature of the characterisation it becomes hard to connect with the characters. This is not aided by the tone, which is almost oppressive in its darkness; while this accurately reflects the world the characters inhabit, it inhibits investment in their plight and results in the show failing to realise its potential to truly captivate the audience’s attention. Dark can work if enough empathy can be created, but the various elements of the show never quite clicked together, resulting in a somewhat disjointed experience.

Everyone in life is dealt some rubbish cards and the occupants of the tower block know just how weak their cards are but they make the best of the trying circumstances and show a great resilience of spirit in the face of depression and hostility. There is a lesson in there for all of us.