Monday, 25 August 2014

When Four Tribes go to war

Polyphonic and polylingual. Re-creation of First World War explores horror and common humanity

The polyphonic production of Front, by Hamburg's Thalia Theater and the Nederlands Toneel Gent at the Royal Lyceum - directed by Fleming Luk Perceval - is a truly impressive and moving performance. Lasting two hours without an interval, and performed in Flemish, German, French and English (English sur-titles allow us linguistically-challenged to appreciate it) it doesn't sound like something that is immediately accessible. But the pared-back set, the use of a backdrop of monochromatic images from the front, the noise of the collected thunder sheets hanging on stage all combine to evoke the horror.

Taken from a selection of scenes from both Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, and Henri Barbusse's Under Fire, the narrative circles the opposing front lines - represented by the lines of cast members along the front of the stage. It gives us the full perspective of the sufferings both in opposing trenches and on the home front. While actors spin like dervishes in an assault, the noise rises to a crescendo. Incongruously, yet entirely believably, a moment of romance between a nurse and a wounded soldier counter poses a spark of life amongst the destruction (although the future of that life is shadowed by the fate of the soldier). Above all, the characters of the young friends condemned by their fates to land in the hell of the First World War highlight the reality of this 'war for fatherland and freedom'. As one says, they are not soldiers, just civilians imported to the front.

I've seldom seen a production that evokes the trauma of killing. The horror of the impact of weaponry on bodies, both human and animal, is somehow more effectively portrayed by the flat, emotionless delivery. If you've a chance in Edinburgh today or Tuesday, go. You'll be gripped for the full two hours.

Front, 7.00pm until 26 August, Royal Lyceum Theatre,

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