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Cockpit

Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
Four stars

'NO FIGHTING' says a makeshift banner hanging over the upper circle of the Lyceum auditorium as seen from the stage, where some of the audience are seated throughout Wils Wilson's production of Bridget Boland's little seen 1948 play. Set in a Berlin theatre used as a holding centre for displaced persons – refugees caught up in a post World War Two limbo and about to be exiled in alien and possibly hostile lands – the play's depiction of still warring factions in newly liberated Europe is both history and prophecy. The actuality sees Poles, Russians, Serbs and Croats at loggerheads, with a show of unity only emerging out of a crisis before hostilities flare up once more.

Boland's play is remarkable enough in its evocation of a conflict-riven Europe steeped in territorial suspicion and warped ideologies. By using the entire theatre as its stage, Wilson has herself broken through a symbolic barrier that makes for a thrilling theatrical experience. With a soundtrack of aching east European chorales pulled together by composer and musical director Aly Macrae, a twelve-strong international cast spill out across the space.

As Peter Hannah's out of his depth British soldier in charge attempts to navigate the tribalistic minefield, it is the devoted stage manager who understands the rituals of the building in ways the others don't, despite the drama they've brought into it. It is he too who suggests putting on a show to boost morale and distract from the everyday tragedy. What emerges from this is a stunning moment that shows the unifying power of the human voice. It shows too the reasons why people will forever join together for shared experiences like this, and why those who would have nations attack each other would rather have it silenced.

The Herald, October 12th 2017

ends

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