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EIF Reviews: Round-up

Michael Cox reviews As Far As Possible, Dimanche and The Threepenny Opera.

As Far As Impossible ****

Sometimes theatre is at its most potent when simple. As Far As Impossible is an investigatory production: four actors (Adrien Barazzone, Beatriz Brás, Baptiste Coustenoble, Natacha Koutchoumov) present the words from a group of humanitarian workers. There are no re-enactments and little judgement on the conditions of war. The cast manipulate pullies to reshape a large cloth as means of an aesthetic, and musician Gabriel Ferrandini provides a percussion soundscape the heightens tension.

The stories are harrowing and humbling; the performances are excellent across the board. Splitting the world into ‘possible’ and ‘impossible’ areas means no country or region is specifically identified: stories come from ‘impossible’ locations in mountains, deserts and rainforests, and ‘possible’ locations sometimes offer little more shelter or protection.

Perhaps the play asks more questions than it can answer. How can these individuals continue such hard work? Do any find a way of reconciling with family and/or friends? How does the ‘impossible’ haunt these workers long after the fact, and what has driven them to dedicate their lives to such dangerous work in the first place? The play isn’t interested in much of this questioning (even if these points are briefly addressed): it has taken the testimony of these individuals and presents them to the audience, nothing more. It is daunting, but it also demonstrates how potent the spoken word is—when trusted.

The production isn’t perfect. Some stories carry far more weight than others, and it feels as if some individuals’ stories have more to reveal than the production allows. Also, a final needless drum solo by Ferrandini fails to do anything than leave the audience’s ears ringing—the words themselves have already accomplished creating the gravitas that writer and director Tiago Rodrigues has surely intended.


Dimanche ****

What if the climate crisis were treated as an absurd comedy? Two stories are presented in the brilliantly inventive Dimanche: plot A follows a film documentary team through wildlife encounters that keep ending with mortal consequences, while plot B watches a family attempt to maintain a form of normality as their home unravels. Puppets, models, film and clowning techniques are all employed to impressive, hilarious effect.

And yet, between the laughs and the clever staging lies a dire warning: ignore the changing world at our peril. It is a message the production clearly makes without being preachy or predictable.

Is there anything original presented here? Perhaps not. And yet, the 75-minute running time is presented with such skill and confidence that it doesn’t matter. Dimanche astonishes with its hijinks and designs.


The Threepenny Opera ****

The problem with being an innovator is that everything associated with your work is assumed to be…well, innovative. Many argue that Brecht is the single most important theatrical voice of the 20th Century, and with him and his theories sits the theatre company he co-founded: the Berliner Ensemble, arguably one of the most known and respected theatre companies in the world.

So, going into their production of The Threepenny Opera, one would be forgiven for thinking they were about to attend a masterclass in modern performance—which it isn’t. What it is, however, is an extremely accomplished and highly entertaining production that uses Brecht’s key theories and concepts without being overly academic.

Set in London, the story centres on the dashing criminal Macheath. Macheath is a rogue’s rogue: a thief, murder and womaniser. He gets away with everything due to his exuberant charm—and the fact the chief of police is a pal—though he’s about to be in serious trouble because Peachum, the father of his latest conquest, has vowed to get him arrested and hanged.

The Threepenny Opera was never about its convoluted plot but more a way to openly critique a capitalist system. It has a collection of fun characters and songs, and with the right cast it’s a recipe for a great night out. Luckily, director Barrie Kosky has achieved just that. Kosky’s production might not be as interested in the politics as he is with being entertaining, but it works a treat. Leaning into the style of Berlin’s famous cabaret world, characters sing out and play more to the audience than each other. The cast are uniformly terrific, particularly Gabriel Schneider as a punkish Macheath, the music (conducted by Adam Benzwi) is wonderfully played and the design concepts are simple yet constantly interesting.

Anyone experiencing The Threepenny Opera for the first time might be excused for wondering what the big deal about Brecht and his theories are, but it still makes for a highly entertaining production.

All productions are part of 2023’s Edinburgh International Festival programme. As Far As Possible and Dimanche have completed their runs. The Threepenny Opera performs at the Festival Theatre until August 20th.

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