Edinburgh reports: frolicking in the foam
(Filed: 21/08/2003)

Ismene Brown reviews Derevo and Fabrik at St Stephen's

If it was Derevo's capacity for horrifying us with glimpses from the maw of human hell that first grabbed my attention some years ago, now it is the capacity for almost unspeakable beauty on stage - made from very little - that adds to the exceptional appeal of this monkish quartet of shaven-headed Russian mime artists.

Their breathtaking Islands in the Stream is a positive seaside holiday in comparison with last year's home-made Dante circus, with sailors, admirals and bathing beauties instead of demons and lost men.

Where you felt in past Derevo shows that every item of debris on stage still had the sticky bits from the last user on it, in Islands the home-made props look rather more chic. The tiny cut-out ships and sailor costumes are starchy white, the giant goldfish have special glowing paint on them, and above all the fabulous sweep of white flooring and black sails, lit with incredible beauty to suggest water, must have cost more than a few roubles.

Fragments of human stories wash up among representations of ocean life. Birds feed with spread wings on the wet sands; wriggly tentacular pink things are beached by the wash - the four performers switch from one to the other with magical deftness and balletic skill.

Two delightful lovers, a beach belle and a sailor (played by the women, Elena Yarovaya and Tatiana Khabarova, sun and moon), frolic and fool with each other, dancing along a wire of light, full of hope but sometimes anxiously missing each other. A solitary man (the granite-faced Anton Adassinski) in an admiral's greatcoat is often seen staring out over the sea, with props (a rose, a paper boat) hinting eloquently at his melancholy thoughts. Eventually he plunges into the waves, beating at the high breakers, thrashing with a broom at a shoal of huge fish (the aforesaid goldfish; and a memorably funny and pretty sight this is), before dying delicately in the sea.

This wonderful scenario couldn't be made without the complete imaginative integration of Derevo's design and the stunning sound score by Roman Dubinnikov, ranging from ear-blasting tempests to the faintest, most beguiling trickles. It's emotionally less piercing than their last seaside piece, Once; you might even find it surprisingly bourgeois for the erstwhile subversive Derevo. Still, what a virtuosic and unforgettable experience of total theatrical bewitchment.

The two men of Fabrik Company spend their 70 minutes less ambitiously, stuck inside a metal box just big enough for them to stand up. In Pandora 88, drawing on Brian Keenan's hostage experience and Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey, they are prisoners staving off reality with all imaginative resources, doing apparently ridiculous things that bring a lump to the throat. They play hide and seek, catch the light with their fingers, have fights that neither can win, dream of starry weightlessness.

Under the loopiness lies the grim logic that these absurdities are essential to sanity. Wolfgang Hoffmann and Sven Still manipulate this tragi-comic material with a fine lightness of touch and terrific bodily control - their upside-down, slow-motion dream sequence is remarkable.

  • Derevo and Fabrik are at St Stephen's (0131 558 3853) until Mon.

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