wed 22/05/2024

Dimanche, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - troubling and bewildering | reviews, news & interviews

Dimanche, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - troubling and bewildering

Dimanche, Edinburgh International Festival 2023 review - troubling and bewildering

Climate change gets an exquisitely beautiful, gently humorous treatment by two Belgian puppetry and mime companies

Mother and child: don't get too attached to a cute baby polar bear in Focus and Challiwaté companies' DimancheVirginie Meigne

A toy car – in fact, a mobile home with comically enormous antenna on top – shudders over arms and shoulders as if they were mountain ranges. A colossal polar bear comforts its curious cub. A lifesize puppet grandmother is chased up and down stairs by her over-enthusiastic stairlift.

There’s a lot of humour, and of exquisite beauty, in this brief, ephemeral collaboration between two Belgian puppetry and mime companies, Focus and Challiwaté, at the International Festival. The overarching narrative – such as it is – involves a trio of characters (maybe reporters, possibly archivers, at least witnesses) who are cocooned in cold weather survival gear, doggedly observing the fracturing of arctic ice, the slow collapse of the climate – mirrored in heatwaves and turbulent storms back home.

Maybe they’re us, watching it all unfold with a certain degree of worry, but doing little about it. You’re left in little doubt as to Dimanche’s themes, and a couple of images tug forcefully on the heartstrings in suggesting specific small-scale tragedies (don’t get too attached to that cute polar bear cub). Others, however, use a sense of gentle humour in portraying elements of climate collapse. Which is where the problems begin: the show is exquisitely conceived and beautifully delivered, but its images and messages seem rather at odds, leading not to a sense of sharp irony, but simply to a certain bewilderment.

Performances from co-creators Julie Tenret, Sicaire Durieux and Sandrine Heyraud are strong, however – as they should be, since the show is stopping off in Edinburgh after a few years of development and touring (it even began life as the 30-minute Fringe show Backup at Summerhall in 2018). It’s grown a lot since then (and some scenes, such as the bumpy ride endured by our three arctic adventurers, go on for a little too long), and the images it creates of a super-heated, storm-battered Western civilisation bring its ideas into sharp focus. But in portraying such darkness with such wistful beauty and refinement, not to mention such gentle comedy, Dimanche threatens to make an impending apocalypse seem like something whose aesthetics we should admire, or whose humour should amuse us.

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