sat 20/04/2024

Ragnarok, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - moving miniature apocalypse | reviews, news & interviews

Ragnarok, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - moving miniature apocalypse

Ragnarok, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - moving miniature apocalypse

End-of-days drama from centimetres-high clay figures, in a powerful collaboration from Scottish and Norwegian companies

From handheld cameras to big-screen examination: Ragnarok from Tortoise in a Nutshell and Figurteatret i NordlandMihaela Bodlovic

In terms of conveying monumental events using small-scale means, Edinburgh’s Tortoise in a Nutshell visual theatre company has form. Their 2013 Feral, for example, depicted the social breakdown of an apparently idyllic seaside town using puppetry and a lovingly assembled miniature set, to quietly devastating effect.

Their new show Ragnarok – a collaboration with Norway’s Figurteatret i Nordland, based in the far-flung Lofoten Islands – goes quite a lot further, and proved a powerful climax to the ten-day Manipulate festival of animation, puppetry and visual theatre running across the city. Rather than a quaint community going to rack and ruin, what we have here is nothing less than the end of the world, complete with vengeful gods, apocalyptic cataclysms, fire, ice and fury.

That’s quite an ask for some centimetres-high clay figures, even if there are seemingly hundreds of them, lovingly sculpted but still touchingly crude. But the results are really quite magnificent – compelling, deeply moving, and, it has to be said, quite awe-inspiring in their sheer intricacy and organisation. Part of Ragnarok’s power comes from that very friction between its epic storyline and the miniature forces employed to tell it. Those fragile figures guide us through the tale of a young sister and brother, journeying from a decaying city to an uncertain future, naive observers of the world collapsing around them. Contemporary parallels – from Gaza to wider climate devastation – are never signposted, but inescapable all the same.

An impeccable four-strong cast – Jessica Innes, Emily Nicholl, Dylan Read and Jim Harbourne (who also supplies the show’s throbbing soundtrack) – slide between miniature structures to capture details of fights and flights on handheld cameras, the results beamed onto a big screen behind the set, which also serves to symbolise the never-setting, end-of-days sun. In also bringing in choreography, costumes, even calligraphy, there’s a danger that Ragnarok might split into shards like the world it conjures (ably reflected in designer Arran Howie’s shifting set). It’s held firmly together, however, by an ever-darkening sense of doom, pierced by the hope of its two young protagonists. The whole thing ticks away with expertly balanced precision like a complex mechanism in director Alex Bird’s fluid staging, but you can only wonder at the behind-the-scenes intricacies of timings and set design.

Indeed, despite the astonishing detail of the "how", what’s most impressive about Ragnarok is how little that intrudes upon the "what". At its heart, it’s a deeply moving story of despair and hope, of human power at the mercy of greater forces, told with unforgiving clarity through image and sound, and delivered with enormous restraint and subtlety.

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