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Festival Review: The Toad Knew ****

Ashling Findlay-Carroll is 'blown away' by this latest production for the Edinburgh International Festival.

This show is visually stunning and technically impressive throughout, both in design and performance. We enter to a red curtain, which at first seems perfectly ordinary but closer inspection exposes its flaws; old, stained and worn, it has a character of its own which is revealed further as it seemingly dances to the floor and then is whisked away sideward into the wings. Behind are charcoal drapes hanging in long strips, reflecting light and back lit in areas to create a dark, dank, otherworldly atmosphere accompanied by a multitude of hanging cords which suspend what looks like an exploded chandelier, constructed in glass and metal, each section independently lit inside. Initially it is just above the floor but soon each element begins to move independently up, down and diagonally to create new shapes and carry performers to and from the stage.

The influence of Thierrée's circus upbringing is obvious, with slapstick tricks and elements of clown in the character's relationships. It is very much a show focused on creating spectacle. The large fish tank on stage is used to some effect, however what is more impressive is the spiral staircase which grows from the ground and spins as performers climb or descend. The aerial work on this is daring and an example of the physical strength possessed by the cast.

From beginning to end the body manipulation, isolation and physical control displayed by the performers is out of this world, with some remarkable partner work which makes you gasp out loud as you watch acrobatics that make you simultaneously wonder how any human body can move like this and also seem so effortless that surely anyone could do it?

The action culminates in the appearance of a giant toad, an excellent display of puppetry, but I would like to have seen more done with this. The toad motif in general could have been further developed as there were one or two beautiful and imaginative ways of creating the toad, but rather than being satisfying they make me think that there is much more in this to be explored.

If you're looking for a traditional story with dialogue and narrative arc, this will certainly challenge you; in fact even if you aren't after a well made play, sometimes there is so much happening that you aren't sure where to look. It is, however, well worth experiencing. I left feeling a little exhausted but utterly blown away by it all.

The Toad Knew was performed at part of this year’s Edinburgh International Festival. Its run has concluded.

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