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August 14, 2013 5:42 pm
A disproportionate amount of the impact of a site-specific production derives from the selection of the site itself. A decade ago the acclaimed Grid Iron company’s appearance in the Edinburgh International Festival with Variety fell rather flat because the choice of venue, the former variety house that is the King’s Theatre, simply made it look too much like an ordinary stage production. No such caution this time: after we assemble at the central venue of the Edinburgh International Conference Centre, Grid Iron busses us out to the Climbing Arena at Ratho, representing the reception centre on New Earth to which we have all “jumped” via unexplained technology as part of a mass migration from our crumbling parent planet.
The Arena combines modernist architecture of its own for the various induction scenes with artificially made and thus (especially in twilight and darkness) unearthly seeming rockscapes. It becomes much easier to consider that the festival city may be half a galaxy away rather than half an hour by coach.
The initial spiel delivered on the way to the Arena is not encouraging: it seems to combine too-obviously hollow millennial blah with articles of cultish doctrine. As the evening progresses, it becomes apparent that both these elements are deliberate. Far from being a simple solution to the problems of Old Earth, this project is fraught with its own dangers and uncertainties. Principal among these is “the Pull”, a kind of progressively catatonic nostalgia. As our rituals of induction are interrupted by glimpses of exchanges between the New Earth preparatory team, it becomes apparent that there are suspicions that the Pull may even be affecting the charismatic leader of the project, Vela, who has placed too much emotional investment in the arrival of her sister, which has so far failed to materialise.
Catrin Evans and Lewis Hetherington’s production leads us to confront the contradictions of both remembering and abandoning Old Earth and the excessively unforgiving requirements of this new regime. These matters are not tackled especially deeply or in detail (participants are encouraged beforehand to submit treasured images online to the New Earth museum, but there is simply no time for individual attention during the piece proper), but the slightly unnatural atmospheres of the building and the distinctly unnatural air of the climbing arena itself help to bulk out what is perhaps missing from the script, not least the absence of a sufficiently coherent ending.
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