Dead Awaken

music review (edinburgh) | Read in About 2 minutes
Published 12 Aug 2016

Simply staged and shot through with an original neo-soul/hip hop soundtrack, this stripped-back adaptation of an overlooked Ibsen play—his last, When We Dead Awaken—is a haunting, seductive gem at Venue 13, at the foot of the Royal Mile.

On a simple photographers’ studio backdrop, the four-strong cast each armed with a microphone and stand, this has aesthetic echoes of Ivo Van Hove’s production of A View From the Bridge or Secret Theatre’s A Streetcar Named Desire. It similarly dispenses with the clutter of historical context in favor of character exploration and theatrical experimentation, using anachronistically contemporary music to bring the action bang up to date.

Ibsen’s text, as usual, dissects an unhappy marriage: the Artist and the Wife are locked in a stale, decaying relationship and pining for the infinitely more exciting Muse and Bear Killer respectively. Woozily dreamlike and symbolic, the play follows the relationship to its tragic denouement – amidst fjords and mountains that we have described to us here in a series of stage directions.

The stage business is minimal and precise. Brian Carbine’s direction is a choreographic examination of this love-square that allows the live music to elevate rather than interrupt the drama. Jasmine Gatewood is particularly captivating as the tormented, femme fatale Muse, and composer Preston Butler III as the Artist has a strong presence that centres the piece.

A stylish, evocative take on a European classic that teases out the text’s complexities around gender and power and injects it with a compelling contemporary passion.