Acclaimed Russian company Derevo have brought one of their earliest hits, ‘Once…’, back for this year’s festival. Despite winning the Scotsman’s Fringe First award in 1998, this timeless tale of love, loss and laughter is pertinent in today’s climate, with hate and negativity expanding ever-further into the global agenda. The show’s creator, Anton Adasinsky, wrote in a blog post of how he wanted to return to this show to offer something hopeful and invigorating. In this way, ‘Once…’, is as essential as the scathing societal critiques elsewhere on the Fringe.
This show draws on a wealth of experience to marry consummate physical theatre with an apposite score and a riotous set. The five actors inhabit their roles with vitality, emoting with finesse and largesse: whether it’s the flickering eyelashes of ‘She’ or the clumsy pratfalls of the Cupid character. With an anarchic playfulness they completely draw the viewer into the this alternate universe that is at once familiar and totally deranged. Bald-headed, they each move with a purposeful yet whimsical manner as the doomed love story unfolds in front of a spellbound audience. Particular mention must go to the poise of the love interest, ‘She’, as well as the studied foolishness of the clumsy ‘Cupid’ who provides frequent moments of light-relief in this often sinister performance. The pacing of the show allowed for virtually no dips in the action and after a gentle opening, it is only by the very end that we get a chance to catch our breath and reflect on the emotional journey that has panned out before us.
Despite being wordless, there is a distinctly Russian voice to the production. The tale of romantic failure ebbs and flows and at times peaks in moments that contribute to a wider existential howl. The hectic and disorienting narrative serves to reinforce a sense that existence isn’t and shouldn’t be straightforward. These are the inferred meanings of a twisted adult, however, and the press release tells that this play is for the eternal child living in all of us. For the sake of that child, go and see this show. Your heart will exalt at the scenes conjured up by these fantastic performers.