Note: This review is from the 2019 Fringe

Reetta Honkakoski’s Helsinki-based company, in association with From Start to Finnish, brings a stunning piece of physical theatre to this year’s Fringe with The Desk. Based on Honkakoski’s personal experience of a cult, this all-female cast of six performs a masterclass in precision physical theatre.

Dressed in stylised blue overalls reminiscent of 1984, the five ponytailed and pigtailed performers take turns in careering around the single wooden inkwelled desk and chair that are joined together and on wheels.  They polish and dust what seems to be this coveted object using movements that bring heightened comic book actions to mind. As each person eventually acquires a desk of her own, any chaos or jostling is quickly brought under control when the group’s leader, played by Honkakoski herself, who also directs the piece, appears in dark military garb.  Like an unenlightened Captain Von Trapp revisited, she makes full use of a whistle to exercise her authority. What follows is a brilliantly orchestrated depiction of the calculated and well -honed methods of manipulation used by any regime, be it political or religious, in the maintenance of power and control of their followers. The inevitable pockets of underlying anarchy from enforced uniformity, though swiftly crushed, are shown with equal flair and comedic skill.

Magnificent sound design from Tuulikyttälä provides insistent rhythms and soaring climactic sounds, along with some mock military music with a root toot comic element, that chimes with the exaggerated physicality that is the group’s signature. Superb lighting design from Saija Kojonen gives the complex tableaux created by the performers’ bodies the look of a Caravaggio painting.

The entire piece is immaculately synchronised incorporating hand signals that echo various stiff-armed salutes of totalitarian regimes and legs cleverly make swastika shapes as a biproduct of the choreography.  The vibrant portrayal of automatons is consistently impressive but it is a later scene where the leader is an overt puppet master that surpasses everything else. Of course, the irony is that such accomplishment is in itself the result of immense discipline and control, though probably not of the whistle blowing variety!

Performers Karina Degaspari, Sonja Järvisalo, Josefin Karlsson, Liv Nordgren, Freia Stenbäck, and of course Reetta Honkakoski herself, form a highly professional ensemble at the top of its game. Their fitting facial expressions never fail to match the physical actions making the show’s intentions crystal clear. An aspect of the company’s work is corporeal mime which ‘…[places] drama inside the moving human body…’ .  Judging by this compelling performance these young women have absolutely mastered their craft.