Descent – review, Edinburgh Fringe 2015

This review first appeared in British Theatre Guide

Red Card Theatre presents
Descent

by Ruth Frances and James Douglas
at Just Festival at Central Hall, Edinburgh

16 – 23 August 2015

descent

Red Card Theatre presents
Descent

by Ruth Frances and James Douglas

at Just Festival at Central Hall, Edinburgh

For those who like their theatre challenging and thought-provoking then Red Card Theatre’s Denial Trilogy should fit these requirements.

Inspired by a visit to Auschwitz in 2005, the trilogy comprises Denial, Descent and Dark Lantern, each holding a cracked mirror to some of the less pleasant aspects of human behaviour. The plays are also part of the Just Festival at Central Hall off Lothian Road; a venue away from the melee around the Royal Mile but that is no bad thing. Built by the Methodist Church at the turn of the 20th century, this is a light, airy space which contrasts dramatically with the plays’ subject matter, but which also encourages reflection.

Descent is simply staged: swathed in black and with a couple of wooden chairs. Veronika’s story emerges; she has been instructed to pack one suitcase with her most valuable possessions and faces an uncertain journey. But what to choose? We know this was the situation faced by millions of Jews in Europe over seventy years ago but her experiences can easily be compared with today’s headlines: displaced people facing a ‘choice’ between stay and die or flee and suffer the same fate in a strange country.

It is an effective (if commonly used) device to use objects to trigger memories and Descent relies on this, albeit the objects’ use is not overpowering. Veronika (Ruth Urquhart) effectively paints a picture of a family in disintegration, their faith now a burden rather than a blessing.

Although the monologue occasionally lapses into telling followed by showing, overall the script allows the actor to successfully portray different characters through slight changes in physicality and voice. We are now very much aware of the horrors of the ghetto and terrifying onward transportation of communities to concentration camps and it is to the company’s credit this piece retains some ambiguity surrounding Veronika.

Good theatre can help us make sense of the world, to question ourselves and encourage further debate. Descent certainly widens the current debate on oppression and migration and deserves a larger audience than was achieved at this opening performance.

Image provided by Red Card Theatre

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