ZOO venues celebrate their fifteenth anniversary with a bold, rich programme that has a self-proclaimed “fiercely independent” streak.
Several theatre productions this year hail from exciting new companies harking back to the past. Rusted Dust, who debuted with The Lift in 2011, presents The Communist Threat. Set in 1950, two British spies are sent to kill a traitor in Vienna. One is Cambridge-educated war hero; one a working class former-POW. Tensions arise as their target fails to materialise. Set in 1927, Parlour Games is the first show by Tooth + Nail Company – a Gothic tale, infused with the visual trappings of German Expressionism. Four children alone in a crumbling mansion let their imaginations run wild, but old ghosts of their pasts resurface.
Lightening the tone are two shows teeming with 1970s nostalgia. 1972: The Future of Sex is a comedy from Bristol-based Wardrobe Ensemble looking back to the fag-end of the sexual revolution, wondering where our innocence went. Also contains space hoppers. Police Cops, from This Theatre, is set in 1976 and seemingly channels the spirit of The Beastie Boys’ video for Sabotage as it plays fast and loose with the cliché of a cop avenging the death of his partner.
As a teenager I had a bit of a morbid fascination with serial killers, particularly Ted Bundy. Fortunately it isn’t just me, as writer and performer Greg Wohead happened across the confession tapes of the infamous murderer. He presents them in a one-man show, The Ted Bundy Project, which is interspersed with Youtube clips that examines our morbid fascination with these killers, and questions our desire to dismiss them as mere monsters.
Dance and physical theatre are also well represented. Undeniably eye-catching is Liberation from The Alchemist Theatre Company. The “messiest show in Edinburgh” explores modern life through dance, live music and the liberal application of paint on to naked flesh. Katherine Hurst portrays the most notorious female spy in history in the Gavin Robertson Company’s Mata Hari: Female Spy. Featuring original music set to her own words, it questions what we think we know about the famous story, ending in her execution in 1917.
Dance and squash may not seem obvious bedfellows, but Squish Squared melds a contemporary male dance duet with audience participation. The action takes place within glass-backed squashed courts in a humorous take on the spirit of competition. Physical comedy also abounds in Transit Cabaret from the Six Faux Nez Company. Combining music, mime and cabaret, five clowns create silent comedy influenced by the paintings of James Ensor.
This is but a taste of what the ZOO venues have to offer, in a truly diverse and extensive programme that caters for everyone while attempting to retain the independent spirit they’re so evidently proud of.