Polish theatre company Teatr Biuro Podróży are at the Edinburgh Fringe with two shows that both take an expressive and powerful look at war. Silence is having a full run at the Festival and the company are also presenting an older work entitled Carmen Funebre. A large area behind the Edinburgh International Conference Centre has been cordoned off to present the two performances and the smell of smoke is in the air as the audience enter the space.
The audience stand around the perimeter of the performance space. Eventually the flood lights dim and we see two torchlights hanging, about ten feet in the air, just outside of the venue. When they get closer we realise that the lights are being carried by two masked men on stilts. They confront the audience by thrusting the lights into our faces and then menacingly pointing their long and boney fingers in our direction. It is an intimidating scene that is about to get even more confrontational and dreadful. People are plucked from the audience (thankfully they are performers) and they run around the set in confusion. The image evokes a Kafka novel where madness comes to everyday people, but there is an added element of threat and a deep, deep fear in this scene. The stilted oppressors have whips and they crash them off the concrete floor. The sound and the movement is shocking and terrifying.
The terror continues through the performance. Live drumming is introduced, where a pulsating rhythm heightens the trauma. The war wounded appear on stilts and plead with the audience for assistance. Their height gives them an added gravity and their pleading more weight. Then the character of Death is introduced, also on stilts, and he is just as haunting as you can imagine. Still the tension is pushed further when fire is utilised to represent loss, torture and change.
Carmen Funebre was first performed in 1995 and is being reprised this year with only five performances. It is a powerful and pulsating investigation into war and its impact on the innocent. Physical theatre, circus, street performance and fire all combine to create an epic spectacle in only 45 minutes. A longer performance would have given the audience time to digest what we have witnessed, but instead we are left breathless by the imagery and torment.