WhatsOnStage Logo

Somnambules and the 7 Deadly Sins (Edinburgh Fringe)

Two performers create an 'epic voyage into the mysteries of what we are made of', centring on the seven deadly sins

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
WhatsOnStage logo

What's the worst thing that can happen to a theatre critic? I'd suggest it's perhaps jadedness – feeling that (at the tender age of 37) one has seen it all. Somnambules and the 7 Deadly Sins is an excellent case in point.

Elsewhere you can find reviews which praise its "intense audience experience" or its "stunning visuals, fractured storytelling, bold music and intriguing physicality". Whereas, sitting in the theatre, my main thought – unrelated to these other reviews, which I only saw plastered over the poster on the way out – was: 'Oh, come on. Surely we've seen all this before. This is Euro-movement on auto-pilot!'

I would say that anyone who saw Derevo in their hey-day, or Do/Fabrik, or any of those other eastern European companies who used to delight us at St Stephens when it was under the auspices of the Aurora Nova banner will, like me, find this piece a pale echo of previous work. But I'm not convinced it's simply familiarity. I think either our demands on dramaturgy have become more exacting, or the dramaturgy here is far weaker. Tanya Khabarova and Yael Karavan's movement is still excellent, but the narrative here is episodic to the point of nonsense.

The piece is divided into what I expect are seven sections (I didn't count) and it's not too much of a stretch to imagine that each relates to a specific sin. However, it will take a semiotician of some repute to fathom which might be which. Was the fact of the two performers sat amidst a wasteland of shredded polythene bags following the massive projection of a mushroom cloud a demonstration of sloth or the fallout from anger?

Elsewhere the action is far more trope-y. Karavan, mostly dressed in white dresses, is chased about by Khabarova dressed in Mephistophelian black. For most of the duration it feels like we're trapped in a high-Catholic, mittel-europa nightmare. Beyond Good and Evil? Not here, we're not. It's like someone turning the clock back on the Enlightenment with all the force they can muster. Which is to say, this is without question the most reactionary show I've yet seen on the Fringe. Still, there's plenty of skill on display and if non-sequiturs and slightly old-fashioned imagery appeals, you may find plenty to admire.

- Andrew Haydon

Somnambules and the 7 Deadly Sins continues at Summerhall until 25 August 2013