The Scotsman
Fri 8Aug 2003

Derevo - Islands in the Stream


by Kate Atkinson


ST PETERSBURG theatre company Derevo’s new show, Islands in the Stream is about (simply put) the sea - the sea as metaphor, the sea as physical reality, those creatures who live in it and those who play and work on it.

Episodic and imagistic, the series of scenes move from dark and threatening to light and lyrical with barely a heartbeat in between. The show opens with a joyful set-piece that evokes a summer day by the sea (my notes read "sunny-happy") bustling with sailors, sailboats, swimmers, and a blinking lighthouse. This was immediately followed by a scene that (for me) seemed one of stormy undersea wretchedness. Interpretation is everything, of course.

There is something beguiling about Russian and eastern European traditions of mime and physical theatre, where we are given a space to provide our own "meaning" (if we really must). Sometimes (often), this leaves us hopelessly confused - is it a whale? Is it a seagull? Is it both? Does it matter?

The (androgynously bald) four-strong troupe of Derevo are utterly committed to what they are doing. The emotional connection to their physicality results in a performance that is refreshingly free of ego, they are not out to charm us with "personality" and characterful interpretations, like so many western actors, here commitment to the piece is everything and the result is personably good-natured.

Some things don’t work, the ultra-violet tropical fish has been done (and better, to be honest) by every pantomime you’ve ever seen and I wasn’t convinced by the voice-over at the end pointing the way to ecological disaster, I felt that should (and did) come out of the whole. But there are other, magical moments - two men passing each other in the fog, one blowing a mournful trumpet that instantly captures ships in the fog, the ships on sticks, like dogs on leads, the wonderful dumb show tennis game.

The excellent (if loud) music was written by Roman Dubinikov, who also writes for Slava Polunin, whose feet we are not worthy to kiss.

If you yearn for narrative and homogeneity and not dreamy, fragmented abstraction, then Derevo may not be for you but if you want to be still wondering about the significance of boots in a month’s time, or arguing over whether that was a mutated fish or a healthy sea-turtle, then catch Islands in the Stream before it floats off to its next anchorage.

Islands in the Stream runs until 25 August. Kate Atkinson is appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 17 August. Her latest book, Not the End of the World is now available in paperback.

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