Theatre review: The Portrait Firm

Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: The Portrait Firm, at Summerhall (Venue 26), review by David Pollock

Over not much longer than half an hour, we’re immersed in a sinister and blackly amusing experimental orgy of cacophonous weirdness.

Inspired by the work of early 20th-century writer, artist and philosopher Stanislaw Ignacy “Witkacy” Witkiewicz, this avant-garde plunge into a sinister fairytale land begins as we step into the room, with one of the pale-faced ensemble welcoming us up the stairs with a singsong “this way” repeated over and over. She looks at every one of us, right in the eye.

Despite the torrent of tightly controlled strangeness unfolding around us, the ensemble of characters dressed in rags and customised hand luggage creeping across the stage and crawling from amongst the seats, it’s the power of the eye contact that ensnares the viewer.

These figures are animalistic, their call and response phrases like cries in the forest, developing a vocalised musicality to go with the strains of the violin echoing around the room.

In turn they move between us, bodies close and inquisitive gazes meeting our eyes, a completely immersive theatre experience whose lack of apparent narrative content or intention is offset by the fact it engages for every second it’s occurring.

MORE INFO: The Portrait Firm, at Summerhall, until 24 August. Today 1pm

Originally appeared in The Scotsman

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