The Herald
Tuesday August 20, 2002
Edinburgh Festival
Tuesday August 20, 2002
An energetic view of death


HELL FOR LEATHER: Anton Adassinkij, left, and Oleg Zhukovsky of Derevo display reckless physicality in their Divine Comedy. Picture: Gordon Terris


What? Physical Theatre

Where? Assembly Big Top until August 26

Rating? *****

TOLLING bells, cuckoo clocks, fanfares, or perhaps just the drunken singing of Happy Birthday. No matter how you measure the passage of time, it leads to one conclusion: death. Its this that is the beginning, middle, and end of Derevo's manic, inspired journey between the lines and concepts of Dante's Divine Comedy.

Underneath the colourful canvas of a circus big top, this Russian company initiates a parade of medieval grotesques and modern nightmares. The imagery is superbly hectic, with beastly, bizarre flourishes. There's gibbering, cruel indifference to suffering, a sense of being caught up in a maelstrom of distorted values, glittering abuses, lost souls. And, as the circular stage revolves - with the performers having to time their exits and entrances to a split-second - one's own ability to discern good deeds from malevolent trickery becomes unsure. But amid the grotesqueries, the flames, the whirlwinds, and showers of dust, there are instances of exquisite beauty and tenderness. There's the ditsy little jester who persuades the somewhat saturnine "Traveller" to leave aside combativeness and engage with humanity. His birthday party turns into an act of communion, with wine and bread shared among the audience. It's a rumbustious, genial precursor to a final section of uplifting grace, spirituality, and redemption. This epic is performed by only four people. But their headlong energies, superbly channelled into seemingly reckless physicality, easily persuade you that the multitudes of Heaven and Hell are pell-melling everywhere. Marv Brennan
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