Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Published 16 August 2017

Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Crossing Place at Summerhall

Until 27th August

Lost in translation: Chris McCormack finds muddled meanings in Romantika’s adaption of Tomas Tranströmer’s poetry.

Chris McCormack
The Crossing Place at Summerhall, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017.

The Crossing Place at Summerhall, as part of the Edinburgh Fringe 2017.

Desolate and bare, with heaped rubbish bags rising starkly into a tower, the scene for Romantika’s play is like something out of a Samuel Beckett play. Three men (Michael Blundell-Lithco, Ciaran John and Chris Mawson) emerge nearly naked from the trash, a picture that recalls life’s crawl from the primordial ooze. Stepping into white-collar suits, it’s a sudden and grim dash into civilisation.

Based on the poetry of Swedish Nobel Prize-winner Tomas Tranströmer, this vigorous production is set at the ‘Crossing Place’, the writer’s imagining of a final space on Earth untouched by humanity. Profound questions are sought on how we’ve treated the world where we live. Blundell-Lithco nicely evokes an anguished soul wandering alone like T.S. Eliot’s Prufrock, but their environment, astonishingly, has put them under surveillance: “The street sees me”.

Devised by director Johan Bark and the cast, this work elaborates on Tranströmer’s portrayals of embittered relationships and overpowering landscapes by transforming them into gripping physical displays. Chris Mawson vividly summons the scene of a couple at a piano, playing Schubert, casually weighing up their options for murder and superiority. Barely suppressed ideas of violence in verse turn into an outright brawl, as actors lock horns and wrestle to the ground.

The intensity of the physical detail is striking but you can’t help but see Tranströmer’s text, delivered lightly upstage, being drowned out by the explosive action downstage. Bark’s production can’t quite make its borrowed poetry resonate. Performers often rush through their readings, leaving the physical-theatre cipher difficult to understand. Some things get lost in translation.

However, there is no denying the desperate search for answers, as the play moves into a forest clearing, a place with its history lost. Characters rummage through sheets of paper for answers but the Crossing Place, sadly, becomes an arch metaphor for a human race so astray, it can’t rediscover its original path. As one character puts it: “The homestead becomes a sphinx”.

The play’s confusion is unfortunate. Romantika’s physical displays, like Tranströmer’s verse, may very well take us on an epic journey that can span romance to tragedy, evolutionary beginnings to chemical warfare, but too much of its meaning is muddled. The production can’t afford any incoherence, especially if its poetry is to come through crystal clear.

The Crossing Place is on at Summerhall until 27th August. Click here for more details.

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Chris McCormack is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Crossing Place at Summerhall Show Info


Produced by Romantika

Directed by Johan Bark

Written by Tomas Tranströmer and Romantika

Cast includes Michael Blundell-Lithco, Ciaran John and Chris Mawson

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