Us/Them

Arguably a surprise word-of-mouth hit during the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe, this physical-theatre exploration of a mass hostage-taking returns to the Scottish capital with - thanks to the Children's Festival - a far greater chance of reaching its target audience of young people. Presented by Belgian "Art House" Bronks, Us/Them is a remarkable piece of theatre that expertly translates an inhuman ordeal through the language of the playground, into something almost understandable.

A very grown-up show that questions the simplistic narratives we easily rely on to describe ourselves and each other

Starting with an almost completely empty stage, focused performers Gytha Parmentier and Roman Van Houtven appear as eager-to-please children, frantic for attention as they draw out a chalk map of their school, 'School No 1 in Beslan', in the Caucasus. Significantly, there’s mention of a path leaving the school that weaves its way through the deep woods to the distant border with Chechnya, a strange land where there are suddenly no trees, where all the men are paedophiles and the women have moustaches. "Othering" is clearly a concern here, as fairy tales mix with the narratives of satellite TV news.

And then the attack happens; arguably the one moment when the show's presentation deliberately loses clarity, the performers’ energetic shouts and running around lost under a loud soundtrack of Russian singing. Afterwards, we have to quickly play catch up, as the school-children, and many of their mothers, grandmothers and even fathers attending a special school assembly (nearly 1200 people in total) have been taken hostage by a group of Chechen terrorists. The siege will eventually end after three days, when Russian security forces storm the building using tanks, incendiary rockets and other heavy weapons. 334 of the hostages, including 186 children, were killed.

Many dry facts about the siege, in particular the numbers involved, are repeated throughout Us/Them, although the reality is filtered through the numerous ways the two 'children' narrate the realities of the occupation, such as the ways in which, hands held high, they marked the passing hours of thirst, heat-exhaustion, and peeing. School classes become the filter through which they try to make sense of what's happening to them: PE is how they survive standing still and arithmetic lessons are how they attempt to work out the practical logistics of a varying number of terrorists keeping watch over more than 1,000 hostages.

With the stage transformed into a cat's cradle of strings representing the terrorists' booby-traps, tied with easily burst black balloons as their bombs, writer and director Carly Wijs's production is certainly unafraid of moments of silence. Significantly, we're often told that something "didn't happen like that", but that’s the whole point. Powerfully performed, Us/Them is a very grown-up show that questions the simplistic narratives we easily rely on to describe ourselves and each other.

Reviews by Paul F Cockburn

Royal Lyceum Theatre

Mrs Puntila And Her Man Matti

★★
Traverse Theatre

W*nk Buddies

★★★
Traverse Theatre

Pride Plays

★★★★
Multiple Venues

Oor Wullie

★★★★
Oran Mor / Traverse Theatre

Fly Me To The Moon

★★★★
Platform / Traverse Theatre

The Panopticon

★★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £600,000 to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

Performances

Location

The Blurb

In September 2004, 1,200 schoolchildren, their parents and teachers, were held hostage by a group of armed terrorists in the small Russian town of Beslan. It lasted three days and ended in utter chaos. Us/Them retells this story through the eyes of two (fictional) children. But it is not a straightforward account of this terrible tragedy. It's a theatre production about the entirely individual way children cope with extreme situations. With humour, a matter-of-fact approach and dynamic physical storytelling, Us/Them strikingly shows that for children, things that seem incomprehensible in adults' eyes have their own logic. Part of the Edinburgh International Children's Festival.

Most Popular See More

The Lion King

From £45.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Matilda the Musical

From £25.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Heathers The Musical

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Only Fools and Horses - The Musical

From £27.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Life of Pi

From £19.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets