Reviews Edinburgh Fringe 2019 Published 8 August 2019

Edinburgh fringe review: Landscape (1989) by Emergency Chorus

Mushrooming ideas: Dave Fargnoli writes on a fungi-inspired exploration of climate change.

Dave Fargnoli

Clara Potter-Sweet in Landscape (1989). Design: Ciara Shrager (lighting), Nat Norland (sound, dramaturgy)

In all likelihood the world as we know it won’t end with either a bang or a whimper, but with a gradual accumulation of individually-inconsequential events. A few degrees-worth of temperature change here, an inch or two of seawater there.

A show designed, as performer and co-creator Clara Potter-Sweet puts it, for anyone “into mushrooms or anxious about climate change,” Landscape (1989) is a meditative and melancholy performance-piece which deconstructs typical narratives about the apocalypse and its aftermath by imagining a world of long silences, slow recovery, and half-forgotten data.

Sampling from a wide range of admittedly compelling ideas but obstinately refusing to tie them meaningfully together, it’s an impressionistic, often frustratingly directionless collage featuring meandering stories about mushroom foraging, an entry-level micro-lecture on Francis Fukuyama, and some tightly-choreographed passages of abstract, interpretation-defying movement work which alternately accelerates to breathless speed or slows to a glacial crawl.

Though they spend much of the show intentionally testing the audience’s patience, Potter-Sweet and co-creator Ben Kulvichit are nonetheless focused and endearing, lightening the mood with deadpan deliveries and solid comic timing. During one section, they gradually – almost imperceptibly – creep away from the audience while rattling off a sequence of verbal goodbyes, from the romantic hopefulness of “I had a really nice time tonight” to the mic-drop curtness of “regards.”

The stage is kept bare for the most part, with a few props dragged in as needed. Mushrooms are cooked on a camp stove. A microwave timer tediously ticks away the minutes. We watch a crate of motorised mushrooms twirl and buzz like a basket of accidentally-activated sex toys.

Its not until the end that a fragment of plot emerges, as Potter-Sweet reads a letter describing a long, slow hike from LA to Washington. Though the landscape she describes is one of abandoned highways and wildfire-wracked forests, she’s able – perhaps for the first time – to appreciate the beauty in her environment, the delicate subtlety of the changing seasons, the charcoal skeletons of burned trees like “spears shot into the ground by satellites.”

Judged solely as a play, this is earnest, self-indulgent, painfully undramatic stuff. But taken as an invitation to mindfulness it has a gentle but insistent energy, serving as a reminder that our impression of events is often short-sighted when laid against the vastness of geological time, or, say, the perspective of a 2000-year-old fungus. There’s a certain amount of destruction built in to the ecosystem. Volcanic soil produces some of the lushest wine. Pines and mushrooms flourish after forest fires. And though the world may never exactly recover from the impact of humanity, it will nonetheless carry on.

Landscape (1989) is on at ZOO venues at 12.45pm until 25th August 2019, as part of the Edinburgh fringe. More info and tickets here

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Dave Fargnoli is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine

Edinburgh fringe review: Landscape (1989) by Emergency Chorus Show Info


Cast includes Created and performed by: Ben Kulvichit and Clara Potter-Sweet

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