Japanese playwright Toshiki Okada’s play was prompted into existence by the Fukushima nuclear disaster but the Bristol-based FellSwoop Theatre, in its poise and music, acts as if to intervene ahead of calamity.
Glowing light bulbs adorn the fresh morning-lit Summerhall auditorium, where four choir singers jump onto the stage to commence rehearsals. Afterwards, Elizabeth (Roisin Kelly) hesitantly approaches the choirmaster Florence (a stately Caitlin Ince) to describe what she saw from the cliff-edge overlooking their village: a glowing blue cloud. References to local prophecies about impending doom invest the drama with the qualities of a fable.
Except, fancies of fairytales and apocalyptic thrillers are kept at bay by Bertrand Lesca’s elegant and effective direction, which mostly plays the action offstage and on the ground between the traverse seating. The intimacy brings an immediacy to our own environment.
As Elizabeth’s suspicions flit through the rehearsal room, signs of catastrophe are met with brutal resistance. Charlotte Allan brings considerable tension as Eva, who combusts at the thought of endorsing them. Yet, her own malleability within dominant power structures and social hierarchies reveals a separate tragedy.
It is the arrival of pariah and playmaker Hannah (steely Pia Laborde Noguez), soaked and dripping from an unbalanced storm cloud, that might pry open the community’s eyes. In the reading of one of her scripts, the event presents a daring facsimile of itself: “Why are we not talking to each other? Why are we saying things in a play?”
Deliveries are expertly tuned and timed, singing complex harmonies in Bes Osborne’s spare and effective musical direction. But there are flights of darkness in these songbirds. As a whistleblower is symbolically wrestled to the ground, their face smothered by a scarf, we realise a striking paradox: the vicious violence inherent in passivity.
There’s heartbreak towards its conclusion, in Emma Keaveney Roy’s sorrowful description of a dried-up lake, a scene too imaginably real. More preemptive than reactionary, this is vital theatre.
Current Location runs at Summerhall (Dissection Room) until 30 Aug. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.