Review: Are we not drawn on toward new erA, ZOO Southside, Edinburgh Fringe

Are we not drawn onward to new erA is a palindrome in every sense, though it reads better back to front. In this respect, the act of spectatorship feels like eating dinner for breakfast. It’s 11am and it makes sense to begin with, mostly. But imagine a plate of curry — vindaloo if you will — with added chilli pickle, maybe some yogurt to soothe the palate. Now, there is the part of this plate that makes sense, the one discernible breakfast item that is fast encroaching on a bed of basmati rice. Initially, its flavours are somewhat perplexing. Too strong, one might say, for this early hour. Spices jump across the tongue — the same muscle you had caught lolling onto your pillow not some moments ago. It does taste good, sure. But it’s strange. 

Conceived by Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed, Are we not drawn onward to new erA is a highly intelligent and creative response to the state of humanity as we know it. The stage is full of silence, a hushed rapture twisting itself around a single tree potted in a mound of earth. The movements of the performers are tinged with absurdity, as they communicate in an unintelligible wash of would-be-words. Sentences are punctuated with stretches of stillness, broken only by the sounds of branches snapping and leaves as they fall to the ground. 

Thick and oppressive, the quiet presses itself onto the action. There is a real flavour of violence as the tree is skinned, with notes of fresh sap lingering in the air. Reminiscent of Dennis Potter’s Blue Remembered Hills, humour can be found in the actors’ child-like play. Fizzing with bizarre energies, a statue is erected, the gilded nature of celebrity lost amid an impenetrable smog. Together the cast pollute their world with a sea of plastic bags underfoot, having sullied and maimed Mother Nature beyond recognition.

But, can this destruction be undone? This is where Ontroerend Goed’s genius begins to fall into place. Their outlook appears hopeful as they turn back the clock — answering the knock of Armageddon, but not inviting it over the threshold. All is translated as their actions are rewound in video form, confirming Are we not drawn onward to new erA to be a deceptively complex and clever piece of theatre. In questioning humanity’s relationship with progress, dinner is served. It is neither cold nor vengeful, but acts as the yoghurt on our plate of vindaloo. A comfort amid the blaze that is global warming, meaning — preventative measures permitting — that it might not be too late for us after all.

Are we not drawn to new erA is playing Zoo Southside until 25 August as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For more information and tickets, see the Edinburgh Fringe website.