33[author-post-rating] 4/5 stars

The plight of the Chilean miners, trapped below ground, gripped the world a year ago. One billion people watched their eventual rescue on television screens across the globe; that every man could survive such an experience, return from months of darkness to the arms of his family, seemed impossible. But every last one of the 33 miners was hauled from the earth last October.


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Bristol-based company The Wardrobe Ensemble has set out to explore the reality of what happened in those tunnels, with the caveat being that, of course, none of us can ever really know. What they’ve created is a charming, slick and gripping piece of physical theatre, performed by an impressive young ensemble.

Too much physical theatre is done simply because it looks impressive, and companies sometimes make the mistake of using it to cover a lack of ideas. There are few things more uncomfortable than bad physical theatre – or more impressive than seeing it done well. The Wardrobe Ensemble use it sparingly and with intelligence, to highlight the stillness and seclusion of the miners, the endless waiting, in contrast to the frenzy of the media circus surrounding their imprisonment. It’s inventive and impressive to watch. But then, there’s no lack of invention throughout 33.

For instance, it also uses video cameras very well, to illustrate the unsatisfactory way in which miners communicated with their loved ones in the outside world while waiting to be rescued. What the company really succeeds in capturing is the absolute lack of agency these men had – they could do nothing for themselves, nothing at all but wait – as well as the camaraderie that kept them alive. The emergency food supplies they had in the tunnel, before the exploratory drill was able to reach them, were supposed to last for three days: by rationing the supplies so tightly that they lived on one teaspoon of tuna a day, the miners managed to make them last for 17. Everybody got their fair share.

The cast of seven multi-role with ease, focusing in on a few key characters from the tunnels to make the men come alive, and populating the stage not only with miners and their families but also with the people watching across the world, giving a sense of how far-reaching this really was. It’s a high-energy show, with each cast member playing several different parts and, in some cases, a musical instrument too; you’d have to be pretty hard-hearted not to be impressed by this passionate, talented company.

In 33, The Wardrobe Ensemble has created a show that is both funny and moving: more than worth a visit, whether you were glued to your seat by the miners’ rescue or not.

33 can be seen at 21.30 at Zoo, every day until 17 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.