Civilisation – Underbelly Big Belly, Edinburgh

Director: Jaz Woodcock-Stewart

Choreography: Morgann Runacre-Temple and Company

Producers: Antler, Eve Alin

Design: Charlotte Espiner

Lighting: Alex Fernandes

Reviewer: Chloe St George

We are used to music, when used in film and theatre, which contributes to an atmospheric landscape or ambles neatly alongside some emotional narrative. But Civilisation, the joint creation of Jazz Woodcock-Stewart and Morgann Runacre-Temple, has a beautiful and tacit awareness that life is not always that simple; in a time of grief, nothing feels perfectly in line with one’s emotional state. It leaves people dancing after the music cuts out, and blares out Abba as a woman vacantly prepares for a funeral.

The brief is ‘a day in the life of a woman following a tragic event’. As she goes through the motions – calling HMRC, watching Dragon’s Den – the woman (Sophie Steer) taps into the most absurd aspects of grieving. Against the backdrop of such a shattering event, it feels surprising we ever manage to see through the ridiculousness of everyday life, where people earnestly pour their lives into a Seaweed startup and present before a panel of millionaires.

Three dancers fill the stage around Steer’s character, and Runacre-Temple’s choreography is able to create momentum out of thin air, providing a striking contrast to the flatness of grief. The dancers move with a self-sufficiency, a sense of purpose without the need for any external stimulus, while Steer’s character leans on mindless entertainment to fill a hole.

It is difficult not to draw comparisons with Lands, Antler’s sell-out 2017 show. Both bring to the fore what Antler does best, token gestures drawn out longer than expected, which inexplicably speak a thousand words. When Steer stares ahead, blow drying her hair, it is transfixing. However, while Lands saw emotions evolve even when actions physically remained the same, the repeated movements in Civilisation occasionally feel at risk of being just that: repetitive.

Civilisation ends in just as unannounced a fashion as it begins. Wonderfully understated, this snapshot of civilisation is fascinating in its mundanity.

Runs until 25 August 2019 | Image: Alex Brenner

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Wonderfully understated

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The Reviews Hub - Scotland

The Scotland team is under the editorship of Lauren Humphreys. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. We aim to review all professional types of theatre, whether that be Commercial, Repertory or Fringe as well as Comedy, Music, Gigs etc.

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