Bandolier-clad gladiators on stilts rampage through the performance space, brandishing burning wheels and wreaking havoc on the lives of terrified refugees. All of this is to the discordant tones of a heavy and loud industrial soundtrack. This is Silence, the latest Fringe production from Polish company Teatr Biuro Podrozy. It’s a timely and powerful piece of physical theatre which is big on spectacle, if lacking in subtlety.
A timely and powerful piece of physical theatre which is big on spectacle, if lacking in subtlety
Tucked away in a square behind the EICC, the play is a sequel to Carmen Funebre, the drama about the Bosnian war which Teatr Biuro Podrozy brought to the Fringe some twenty three years ago. This short-run revival is linked to the former; where the older piece looks at the terror of the conflict itself, Silence focuses on the aftermath.
The open air production follows the lives of a group of refugees from conflict as their dignity, humanity and culture are systematically stripped away by the grinding despair and violence of war. We see families attempting to build hope in the ruins of their own lives. Parents and their children, represented by eerie dolls, struggle to survive in the face of callous, spiteful soldiers and the inscrutable terror of war and destruction.
Some of the imagery is striking, from the battered bus which represents the refugees’ flight, to the blood spattered misery of a man whose music is stripped from him. Some is less effective, with the swaggering cruelty of the soldiers reducing evil to caricature. The result is a work which is very good at expressing the harrowing desolation of refugee life, but at the cost of nuance. It’s an experiential bludgeoning which, although affecting, doesn’t leave much space for interpretation.
The plight of displaced people is too often reduced to a few lines in a newspaper article, images on a news broadcast, or worse still the unsympathetic dismissal of a social media post. Silence is a stark taste of the horror faced by normal people beset by terrible events. As night falls over Edinburgh, it takes the audience on a compelling journey into the darkness of life under the assault of war. It doesn’t provide many questions or answers, but it is impossible to ignore.