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The Herald Young Critics Reviews

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Read the reviews penned as part of the Herald Young Critics Project. Running for over 15 years, the project brings young people from across Edinburgh to review performances which they might not otherwise have seen. All the writers were coached by The Herald's own art critics and the best review of each performance is printed in The Herald. 

Rite of Spring | Photo: Ryan Buchanan
Rite of Spring
Reviewed by Leith Academy students

★★★★

Dance, Chinese culture, classical music and Buddhism are all ingredients for the Rite of Spring, originally by Stravinsky and adapted by Yang Liping which right away tells you that this dance is like no other. Once the show had begun it was complete silence, the slightest cough or ruffle of a jacket could be heard from across the theatre and would break the gaze from many people in the completely full audience since everyone was captivated by the slow, jittery movements like a praying mantis.

Before the show even started there was heavy use of Eastern Asia influences which includes a Buddhist monk (portrayed by Xiaofan Feng) slowly carrying a crate of wooden Chinese characters, placing them steadily in an ever changing circle as a group of women in leotards and halo like headpieces sat inside that circle doing what appeared to be meditation.

The pace was ever changing going from very small and tranquil movements to a sudden riot-like state on stage. The dancers’ movements went from swaying like flowers in a breeze, with lots of vivid colours, to doing aggressive and sudden flips changing the entire feel of the dance.
I didn’t really understand what was going on, much like a lot of the audience, but I would recommend this as it has a unique blend of styles from different cultures. You can’t help but have your attention grabbed whether you’re a dance lover or not.

James McNab

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

Read more reviews of Rite of Spring

★★

It was like a car constantly breaking down, stopping and starting. Yang Liping’s production of a Rite of Spring at the Festival Theatre failed to deliver a clear narrative thread. The uninitiated would be lost.

There was a very clear influence from Tibetan culture due to the glimmering head dresses and the monk who was calm amongst the chaos on the stage. The majority of the music seemed to be very Eastern, with only some of Stravinsky’s great music shining through. It wasn’t a harmonious union.

The costumes never lacked colour nor impact. But you couldn’t help but notice the lack of individuality amongst the dancers. It leaves you questioning whether Liping wanted them to be seen as one, or was she unable to make each one stand out?

The dancers movements varied throughout the performance. The most mesmerising was the contortion of long green fingernails, suggesting grass in the wind. It was a very earthy and psychedelic to watch. As the show came to an end, golden glitter showered from the ceiling onto a great bowl in which a dancer was sat. It was “eye candy” at its finest. On the flip side, some of the more sensual dances became rather uncomfortable to watch from a younger perspective.

The piece as a whole was visually enticing, where you physically could not look away. However it is too reliant on the visual impact and completely misses the mark with conveying a story.

Mirren Armstrong

Sharon Van Etten
Reviewed by Portobello High School students 

★★★★

Sharon Van Etten has a talent for making her most toxic stories of love come to life in a calming yet entertaining way. The majority of her songs explore her shattered tales of love which adds weight and an emotional touch to her music. Her quirky and warm personality came to light during the whole show and in turn she received a huge amount of praise.

Her First song, “Jupiter 4” explored her emotional journey of finding love. The surroundings of the theatre complemented this song perfectly. The crumbling walls and tattered floors resembled her broken relationships in the past and added to the dramatic impact of the song. The audience was touched by her deep and meaningful lyrics.

One of Sharon’s most iconic songs, “Comeback Kid” was played during the middle of the concert. Van Etten’s wonderfully confident personality shone through during this captivating song. The songstresses powerful voice boomed across the venue as she performed the main chorus. Her energetic performance on stage enthralled me.

What I loved about Sharon Van Etten was her comedic interactions with the audience. The crowd erupted with laughter after she introduced a song about her family and then proceeded to say, “It’s my least favourite song.” It’s the little moments like these that make this incredible artist memorable.

The entire night was captivating and inspiring. Sharon Van Etten’s passion and energy had a huge influence on myself. It is clear that she has a limitless gift of music creation.

Ryan Gilhooly

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

Read more reviews of Sharon Van Etten

★★★★

The isolated in pain but raw and empowered vocals of Sharon van etten resonates amid an abandoned dreamscape. Leith theatre providing the perfect backdrop for the reminiscences of sorrow and the song of praise for a heroine of hope. Sharon Van Etten a New Jersey native singer, anatomised feelings of longing throughout her discography.

Leith theatre barren but decadent in an air of anticipation, transformed with childish wonderment. The decay of the building’s interior is insignificant as the walls awash with a wave of illumination. Hosting an intimate performance that showcases Van Etten’s thrilling exploration of synth-rock, coming from a place of sorrowful folk-songs of soul barring in the face of aggression and affection.

She explores her heartache publicly on stage with a fragility soaring into enthralling surges of virtue. She takes on an impersonal but intimate look at the audience, as she performs on stage with the affinity of a bedroom performance.

In a 2014 interview Van Etten stated she doesn’t know why she makes music-who was if for? Herself? Surely not, too self-indulgent. She speaks of the personal nature of her music and how she is dazed by others intrigue, citing her performances as therapy on stage.

One lyric resonated with me- “I want my scars to help and heal” leading me to believe that in Van Etten making music for herself, she Is really making music for all who experience heartache-she is a musical heroine of hope, who is proof of healing in the wake of sorrow.

Erin Menelaws-McCririe


★★★★

Now on her fifth album, “remind me tomorrow, Van Etten brings to the stage a gut punch of raw, folk rock conviction. The lighting is bold yet never distractingly flashy or theatrical, adding to the sincerity and atmosphere Van Etten’s commanding stage presence providing the energy needed to elevate the often already ecstatic sonic environment. Animated, she bounces across the stage during moments of grungy power, and tones down beautifully amid more contemplative moments in the set.

 The filthy sounds of her latest forays into electronic-driven music are a stand out; wobbling bass and ethereal synth arpeggios coupled with Van Ettten’s familiar folk-rock stylings creating a wonderful postpunk-meets-Springsteen quality, with influences ranging from Kate bush and Thom Yorke, to contemporaries like Fiona Apple and the wonderful Heather Woods Broderick, who as well as providing the show’s opener, supplies the close, poignant vocal harmonies driving much of Van Etten’s music.

 Van Etten’s voice is smoky and mature, her poetry consistently overt and raw; whilst lyrically sometimes frustratingly blatant, the conviction in performance convincingly holds the songs together. Instrumentally, whilst never virtuosic, the sincerity on stage is captivating, with the audience singing along with gusto to a wonderfully stripped back rendition of “Sunshine on Leith”, and joining in the electrifying climax of noise at the apex of “Hands”. Even if you haven’t been particularly captivated by Van Etten’s previous efforts, the fiery style of her recent releases make this show well worth it. “Maybe I am a little crazy,” she muses.

Finlay Mayers


★★★★

Sharon Van Etten – accompanied by the hauntingly beautiful vocals of Heather Woods Broderick and her band – certainly brought Sunshine on Leith.

The show, part of the Edinburgh International Festival, included support from Woods Broderick who brought not just rich, reminiscent vocals to the main act but to her own set as well. She delicately projected an honest, caramel glaze in her sound; and a reverb effect danced her voice across the hall. But with driving synth and bass, Van Etten’s show definitely took a different – yet similarly stunning – road.

Effortlessly strutting across the stage, Van Etten teased the audience – reaching out to them and captivating those at the front with an intense stare from beneath her silky 80s hairstyle. She held a direct intimacy with the hundreds, which was greatly received as well as her passionate gratitude for people coming to the show – her genuine surprise was uncharacteristic for such a popular artist. Among the audience, gazes of absolute adoration did not falter as she alternated between her different musical styles. With sarcasm, style and self depreciation she subtly brought out a chuckle from many.

Her set was varied; while some songs recalled the likes of Phoebe Bridgers and The Cranberries, her heavier songs with synth in particular overwhelmingly screamed Perfume Genius. However, no matter the style, it was undeniably apparent that Sharon Van Etten poetically displayed a yearning honesty in every note. She wore her heart on her sleeve; carrying her vulnerability with a sense of pride and healing.

Orla Troup 


★★

Sharon Van Etten is a songwriter/musician who often finds inspiration in her unpleasant or toxic relationships, this leads to many of her songs talking about her personal experiences with love. In the concert Sharon Van Etten even said ‘you find love in unexpected places and you have to embrace it’ leading me to believe that love and personal relationships are a very important topic to her. This makes her seem more genuine which adds a larger impact and depth to her music.

The performance was good with no major mistakes apart form a miss start on ‘Malibu’ which Van Etten quickly and successfully turned into a joke. Her charismatic quips and comments also brought some laughter to the audience throughout the performance creating a more personal connection with the audience, the house acoustics were amazing, the bass sending tremors through the floor and the drums shaking me to the core the room was uncomfortable.

For the most part, I enjoyed the concert and the venue severely impacted my experience. My place on the floor meant I was standing for the whole concert, the venue was extremely hot and stuffy to the point someone had to leave for air. A few of her songs where badly balanced meaning some instruments were lost to loud chords or thumping drums and some of the songs where a little pretentious or repetitive.

Although the performance was good the music was not good enough for me to recommend unless you are a particularly devoted fan.

Daniel Ivri-Milton


★★★★

This past Wednesday Sharon Van Etten and her unified band mates played to delighted fans with all the passion and talent you’d expect. After a warmup by one of her band mates Heather Woods Broderick there was much anticipation for when Sharon finally appeared on stage to a screaming crowd.  As she played unique variations of some of her best song she ranged everywhere from slow and relaxed to upbeat and thunderous, the mix in tone between the songs was a good pallet cleanser that kept things interesting and helped convey the passion behind the music.

Additionally the production design of the whole show helped emphasise the power of the music and generally helped to dramatise the performance of her and her talented musicians. As well as this I found her to be quite down to earth as several times during the show she spoke directly to the audience and expressed enormous gratitude for the love they were showing her as well as her love for Edinburgh and told us what she was doing while she was here. 

Finally in a tribute to the city and the location of the venue, near the end of the show she went on to sing the beloved song ‘Sunshine on Leith’ which of course only acted to make the audience go crazy as she sung her heart out and then followed this with ‘Seventeen’ and a few of her greatest hits before thanking the audience and her crew with immense gratitude and modesty.

Erdal Bayraktar 


★★★★

Sharon Van Etten is a singer-songwriter from New Jersey. Her music genre is Indie rock, Folk music and Folk rock. Last night I attended Sharon Van Etten’s concert at Leith Theatre in Edinburgh.

The slightly rundown venue suited the atmosphere of the concert perfectly with mist as an extra added touch. The lighting at the show was used in a strategic way to immerse the audience into the show. Lights in sync with the music and the heavy beat of the drums in her band made me feel excited about the songs Sharon and her band were playing.

Her stage presence was incredibly enthusiastic, and you could tell that she enjoyed taking time to talk to us as her audience. She even earned a few laughs. She was friendly, seemed unapologetically honest and funny. Her dancing on stage was interesting.

I found myself smiling at whatever moves she was making to enhance her music. When she played Seventeen, one of her more popular songs, I found myself strangely feeling connected to her lyrics, even though I’m not even 17 yet. “I used to be free. I used to be seventeen.”

Her story felt relatable to me even though I hadn’t been through exactly what she was singing of, it felt familiar. Although Sharon’s music was exciting, a definite favourite of the audiences was her rendition of The Proclaimers Sunshine on Leith. It sounded like she had managed to get everyone in the audience singing along with her.

 It was astounding.

Rhadija Kabir


★★★★

The silhouette of Sharon Van Etten appeared onstage shrouded in mist, her beguiling voice fortifying the theatrical entrance. With an abrupt flash of atmospheric lights, and the spotlight falling upon her, the performance commenced. With an outstanding opening number, punctuated with enchanting vocals and energetic dancing, her stint onstage started on a definite high note. 

Sharon commanded the audience’s attention, not just with her moving singing and dancing, but with her grounded humour and engaging banter between songs. Throughout the course of the evening, she performed numerous pieces, from bouncy, joyous tunes to more somber, mellow melodies that despite the notable difference in tone, didn’t decrease in quality one bit; an audience favourite being the Proclaimers’ , “Sunshine on Leith”, paying homage to the city of Edinburgh and its people. 

She delivered an electric performance, her voice and accompanying instruments reverberating off the theatre walls creating a decidedly moveable beat, that the audience, although not as forthcoming with dance at first, were soon moving freely and effortlessly to. Sharon, without a doubt, gave herself as well as the audience a thoroughly enjoyable experience. 

I entered with high expectations, which she didn’t fail to meet and surpass in granting a truly spellbinding performance, taking us through many highs and lows with her captivating singing and lyrical rhetoric, which the audience rewarded with raucous applause. A commendable concert, with solid delivery from the supporting act as well, that can be called nothing less than one of the finest productions of the Festival.

Solly Mayers 


★★★★

With an artist like this you know there will be distinct guitar shreds, thundering drums and zen like wind chimes, all wrapped together in mellow and yellow tunes. Sharon Van Etten managed to captive an audience with her mystical dances and spooky hand movements. Despite some technical setbacks, she managed to create a show so intense it nearly knocked over the derelict Leith Theatre.

From the very beginning as the lights began to dim and the smoke machines twirled, already we knew what sort of performance we were getting. Shadowy figures littered the stage as she appeared from the darkness to perform her first song Jupiter 4. With her captivating but simple voice along with her impressive partner in singing Heather Woods Broderick, they managed to create an unsettling but inviting tone to welcome you with.

The rest of the show had strong highlights, including her down to earth charm. But she didn’t just captivate the audience with her words outside of her performances, as whenever she sung about toxic relationships and downright miserable times the crowd stood with her whilst she let her heart out.

Some songs however didn’t quite mesh well, I was just bobbing my head when what seems like the same songs played. But the performance of Hands which made the entire venue erupt at the end. Along with the surprise performance of Sunshine on Leith, these did more than make up for the faults.

Whilst it isn’t the masterpiece of all music, I’ll remember it.

Louis Polson 

Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer
Reviewed by Boroughmuir High School Students

★★★★1/2

An astounding take on the harsh reality of Northern Irish working class youth; Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer’ was an impressive dance piece that explored this social issue in a stunning but unsettling way. From the beginning it had the audience hooked as it started with the eerie scene of three teenage boys standing around a burning censer as a thin beam of light slowly illuminated them. After this Doherty explores the characters of different young working-class men through her spectacularly choreographed piece. In this piece she transformed in to different characters through the spectacular use of different body language as chilling interviews played along with religious mass type songs. 

Perhaps the most striking episode in the performance was episode II - The Sugar Army. In this episode a group of exceptionally talented young women performed a piece that explores the strength that many working-class girls need to have in their lives. What was impressive about this performance was the fact that you saw all the girls as a group collectively, but you were also able to see each girl individually as well. Each individual seemed to have their own unique trait- be it subtle or obvious. As someone who is new to the world of dance, this whole show was phenomenal for me to see as it showed me how dance is more than just moving your body to music but an art form that can portray real people and real-life struggles.

Madeleine Cornfield

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

Read more reviews of Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer

★★★★

Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to be Soft’ is a visual representation of an intimidate childhood diary. Split into five sections, each tell a story of something she has encountered within her life. It appeals easily to a wide audience - whether we understand all of the performance or not, everyone will look into the performance and see their reflection on at least once. Oona manages to convey simple, powerful messages within dance that even a complete dance novice would be able to understand. Take ‘The Sugar Army’-, a troop of young girls sporting bomber jackets and red lipstick using grand, wide movements to convey the pressure of appearance. They run around in circles to show the everlasting pressure and cycle young girls face- and the desperation to escape. The section ends with the group exiting the stage, bar one girl, who walks towards a beam of light, seemingly escaping the cage they’re stuck in, until she rethinks her decision and runs back to join her friends. This is something I’d be surprised if someone couldn’t relate to in some way. The feeling of being caged in, trapped; the desperation to escape a cycle; the pressure of looking good when you’re really falling apart. Doherty manages to tell the story of people whose voices have been silenced. ‘Meat Kaleidoscope’ shows two men unable to communicate their feelings - it’s difficult to tell whether or not they are wrestling or hugging at times - showing the toxic masculinity that still occurs often today.   

Isla Dunn


★★★★★

Raw and vulnerable. Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer’ is nothing short of sensational. In four episodes the story of finding strength is told. 
We open with a censer spilling smoke, rising up a pillar of light. Three boys surround it, teenage-like in their appearance but they stand peacefully, heads bowed akin to monks. 

In the first episode Oona preforms a breathtaking solo. The background noises are a beautiful contradiction, an angelic chorus with the overlapping of men talking, fighting, women crying, screeching sirens and exasperated coughing. 

The second episode, ‘The Sugar Army’, is anticipated by a recording of a woman talking of hiding fear and finding strength. This dance routine is performed by young girls. They move with strength and power. Defiant. 

‘Meat Kaleidoscope’ is the third episode and an exploration of masculinity and aggression. The voices of two men, who we assume to be father and son, are played in the background. “Have you forgotten where you came from?” one asks the other. The setting closes in as the men gradually ease toward each other. Moving from a hugging embrace to a brutal shove, we see the importance of touch.

The finale - ‘Helium’ - is an exquisite solo. The previous episodes almost summarised through these ten minutes of pure dance. The performance ends with a Kate Tempest style final word as the light is stripped away, until we are left with darkness.

A truly mesmerising performance.

Isobel O’Donnell


★★★★

Passionate. Powerful. Painfully poignant. Oona Doherty’s ‘Hard to Be Soft’ is a hauntingly beautiful dance performance like no other. Entwined with biblical symbolism, it is a moving depiction of Ireland’s Troubles and an exploration of the people of Belfast’s inability to escape a situation that is out of their control. It’s a gripping insight into the powerless trying to gain power over their own lives.

Set against the backdrop of a cage, the performances are split into five sections- each symbolising a different aspect of life in Belfast. From Doherty’s own riveting dance solo, to the empowering tribal dance of the Sugar Army, to the heartfelt display of raw emotion in Meat Kaleidoscope- the underlying message is clear: a desire to break free. Free from the clutches of toxic masculinity. Free from the jagged divisions of religion. Free from their newfound normality.

This show is a must see. An important representation of what it’s like to be people caught in a rut of discrimination and separation yet trying to unite to overcome this. It contrasts violence and sexuality, masculinity and femininity and conformity and individuality. Who would’ve thought a dance piece could evoke so much emotion and represent so much? Well, one thing’s for sure: ‘Hard to Be Soft’ is hard to ignore.

Lucy Donoghue 


★★★

If you consider dance the epitome of expression and find satisfaction from learning about human nature, then ‘Hard to be Soft’ is an ideal performance for you. However, if you do not adore movement with no plot nor dialogue, you may find yourself caged in the audience, just as the actors were trapped in a cage created by the walls of the stage. The performance was separated into four acts of varying quality, depicting poverty, strife and gender roles in Northern Ireland; first came ‘Lazarus and the bird of Paradise’ a solo where Oona Doherty pranced around flailing her fists, depicting being trapped in a brutal world, filled with violent men unable to express emotions without usage of fists. ‘The Sugar Army’ followed, expressing feminism and endurance through poverty, a group of young women moved through the stage with fluid violent motions, showing strength and prowess, describing defying poverty with a brave face and makeup. ‘Meat Kaleidoscope’ had a strong message but weak delivery, it resembled dull molasses. The dance was two overweight shirtless men, falling and standing up together, they belligerently repeated this over and over. The message contrasted with the lackluster act however, it described the inability of male expression, being trapped alone, until suicide is the only outlet. ‘Helium’ the final act was disappointing, a solo of meaningless movement simply failing to express anything comprehensible, making it tedious and underwhelming. To conclude, the performance was memorable and appreciable containing deep themes, yet it was not enjoyable.

Finlay Bretherton 


★★

With 4 acts of interpretive dance Hard to be Soft: A Belfast Prayer was an emotional disaster. Each section brought a new idea from the colourful characters of Belfast portrayed in the first chapter by Oona Doherty to the raw vulnerability and plea for help in the last, giving diverse insight into the problems facing the city.

Despite the hard-hitting themes such as the empowerment of women and the acceptance of vulnerability and a promising start, the show was more confusing that inspirational. The strong stances and intense lighting lead only to an ostentatious overtone.

 Lacking in passion, the only redeeming feature was the eye-catching linear set design created by Ciaran Bagnall which helped in adding clarity to muddled routines.

Whilst possibly deliberate, the chaotic music emphasised the disturbed feel of the show, creating an uncomfortable, fragmentary atmosphere. Some may say this reflects the uneasy topics expressed however I believe that it only made the performance intolerable.

The message around the show is understandable and thought-provoking, however the execution was clumsy, therefore the performance receives 2 stars.

Rosie Milne


★★★★

Oona Doherty’s “Hard to be Soft: a Belfast Prayer” embodies all the concepts that the title suggests: vulnerability, violence, and the need to band together in times of hardship. 

The first part, “Lazarus and the Birds of Paradise”, displays Doherty’s unique ability to morph into different characters, as she transitions from smooth moves to violent movement. Doherty’s ability lets her reflect many of the aspects of her subject matter, the troubles of Northern Ireland. The perpetual violence and fear the people felt is masterfully conveyed in Doherty’s dance. Part 2 was “Sugar Army”, which illustrated a powerful message of female togetherness. The haka-like dance from the troupe of young girls demonstrates the sisterhood needed to make it through the hard times of the troubles. “Meat Kaleidoscope” explored the relationship between vulnerability and masculinity. They are often at odds, and the use of the dim lighting, the reluctant approach of the performers and the awkward grappling of their dance conveys this very well. The conclusion, “Helium”, cleverly reflects the clearer state of mind Doherty’s dance represents, the audio is less of a clamour, consisting of less instruments and sounds, as her moves flow from violent to gentle, from masculine to feminine.

“Hard to be Soft” is a performance well worth attending, as Doherty has the superpower to hold an audience in rapt attention. The topics she deeply cares about are displayed in sensitively, yet frankly. Attend for the myriad of emotions it evokes, and the beautiful human empathy it stimulates.

Julia Turner 

Night Walk for Edinburgh | Photo: Ryan Buchanan
Night Walk for Edinburgh
Reviewed by Holy Rood RC High School students

★★★★★

Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have brought one of their famous audio-visual walks to Auld Reekie. Working with The Fruitmarket Gallery (as they have previously) and the Edinburgh International Festival, Cardiff’s voice guides you through what seems the secret Edinburgh. You hear her, and a whole second world, through headphones. You follow her movements through a phone, seeing what is really in front of you, and this other reality too. 

Sound is a strength in the pair's work, and this is no exception. It creates a city within the city, and I find myself turning around when hearing footsteps or laughter, expecting to see the source behind me. As I step onto the Royal Mile, there’s a subtle intake of breath before a bubble is popped and we hear an amplified version of what the Mile sounds like. The Mile, and other well-known areas, feel like themselves in Technicolour and Surround Sound.  

There is a thread of a narrative running through the walk with characters reappearing along with Cardiff’s missing coat. Norman MacCaig’s and Walter Scott’s poetry is used to link a focus on air vents. The connections made create a sense of seeing Edinburgh breathe, and the music throughout like Edinburgh singing. You might wish for more of a conclusion but the quiet ending is still satisfying. 

Anyone lucky enough to experience Night Walk will have their perception of Edinburgh changed forever, and their ideas of past and present turned upside down. 

Olivia Campanile 

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

Read more reviews of Night Walk for Edinburgh

★★★

Made by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, ‘Night Walk for Edinburgh’ is an audio and video walk, that leads you through the Edinburgh’s Old Town. It’s just you, a pair of headphones and a little screen that helps you see the town’s secrets and mysterious events. 

At the beginning of the play, you are not quite sure what to expect. You are just listening to a story. I think the concept of it is really interesting, yet it starts to feel a little bit repetitive. The majority of scenes are just you walking and listening to the voice, where occasionally some scenes are interrupted by actors doing things. However the scenes are not leading to anything, and it’s like the play wants you to think of the story for yourself, rather than presenting it to you.

Anyhow, even if the plot wasn’t the strongest, the audio make it up for it. It was the main thing that created the mood and atmosphere, and there were moments where I had to pause the video to see if someone’s behind me, as the footsteps felt real. Even if I was surrounded by completely different people in a completely different time, I felt like in a different world. 

The idea is quite unique. The whole experience felt really interesting and you don’t feel bored. It’s almost like being a part of a play rather than an audience. However, even the most amazing concept, could be pushed in the wrong direction, and that’s what ‘Night Walk for Edinburgh’ felt like.

Weronika Krawczyk


★★★★

It was nothing like I have ever experienced before. Another 'physical cinema' piece by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller that blended fiction and reality and crafted an amazing experience that was shown by the Edinburgh International Festival.

I enjoyed the ghost-like tour aspect very much, learning about History but also Ourselves. There were parts that made me feel helpless, wanting to help the characters on screen, yet, also realise how normal it is for people of Edinburgh to walk past beggars, me not feeling much effect by that scene. It was a fully eye-opening experience as much as an enjoyable one.

Although the production felt unfinished. When it ended, if felt more like it stopped half-way through. It didn't give us a more clear link between the events we witnessed nor a clear climax. I feel like a climax would have been best to consider.

What I loved the most about it is that, even if it did have an inconclusive end, it does give us enough clarification during the walk to make sense of the bits and pieces and, after, leave us thinking. Wondering. Creating. This is a creation that inspires creation. And THAT is what amazed me the most. The amount of thought I put into it after and how many different ideas I created of possible narratives. 

Overall, it was an unforgettable experience that I hope to go through again next year with a new concept, hopefully even better!

Martyna A. Gorska


★★

Being different, in any form of art, doesn’t ultimately mean that its bad, if it's done right it can be a masterpiece, however “Night walk for Edinburgh” tries to be different and fails at it. With a lack lustre plot that left you wanting more, and a sore arm from holding the performance in your hand.

Night walk for Edinburgh turns against what teachers say in schools and forces you to look at a phone screen instead of the beautiful city in front of you. You start on Cockburn street and walk around the royal mile, and eventually end up where you started. All the while holding a phone in your hands and having headphones in your ears. It puts you in a first person prospective with the person talking to you playing as your inner monologue. There was no plot to speak of you're just listening to someone speak.

Throughout the performance, the voice through your headphones asks you to look at monuments and hidden drains, when I look at them myself, away from the screen, I'm punished as the performance has walked of forcing me to catch up with myself. The pacing is also difficult to wrap your head around, as you are literally walking in someone's footsteps, I found it hard to keep up the pace, often missing things and having to turn back or being too far away. It often made me feel out of place and disjointed, it might have been intentional, but I didn’t enjoy it.

I would rate this performance 2 stars.

Dylan Berry


★★

The story’s performance felt incomplete, lacked progression and had a tedious climax, when you finally understood it.  The story used unrelated dialogue about Edinburgh’s history that seemed to attempt to make me feel anxious as like a trope to seem cultured yet going into little to no detail. This revolutionary way of presenting a story is fueled by immersing the consumer and through in story directions like tap the screen that was clunky and took away from the immersion.  

However, they were successful at capturing the stress of navigating through the streets and closes of Edinburgh as you avoid eccentric street acts and busy tourists. However, this was short lived as pointless stops, meaningless metaphors and general descriptions further distracted me.  Also, colliding with other participants on the “isolated” story meant you no longer felt as intimate with the narrator. Some moments of tension gave hope for the media but was rushed and unconnected with the journey. 

The high tech headphones that also noise cancelling abilities built in was sometimes almost comforting to hear the footsteps and city life and life around you making it seem natural even when it made me feel nervous I felt like it was a right choice up to the point that it felt like an autonomous sensory meridian response, asmr, video. 

A redeeming factor for this new media is the path you travel when dark can get creepy to fit the feel of the performance while it gets darker and a colder night. 

Luke Davies

Roots | Photo: Gaelle Beri
Roots
Reviewed by Craigroyston High School students

★★★★

1927 productions did a weird but wonderful job at remaking these amazing, hilarious folk tales.

When watching ‘Roots’ I felt completely mesmerised by the animations that took place on the screen. The atmosphere immediately changed when watching one of the tales. The show started with a tale about a cute, ‘fat cat’ and within 10 seconds it had ate its owner. Watching the audience reactions change was very interesting. The main character in each tale was evil in some kind of way, which made every story, that were completely different with each other, join together and make them all have something in common.

The performance of ‘Patient Oriselda’ was my favourite. 1927 portrayed the tale so well with the animations and acting. The performance really felt like it was set in the 17th century and it made me want to go home and watch ‘The Musketeers’. The live music sounded like a mix between a glockenspiel and a harpsichord which really helped take the audience back in time. 1927 were incredible because of the way they were able to take the funny and disturbing and combine them both to make this amazing piece of work.

1927’s ‘Roots’ was incredible, mesmerising and enjoyable to watch. 4 stars definitely well deserved, would 100% recommend.

Nicola Graham

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

Read more reviews of Roots

★★★★

‘Roots’ is a strange yet captivating short series of mostly silent folk tales.

The visuals and atmosphere created an overall creepy feeling with the odd twist of humour. There is certain folk tales that will leave you slightly scarred whereas others will make you laugh out loud. The faces of the mimes will send shivers down your spine which toys with your emotions like a hungry, fat cat.

The use of the projected images and animation helped the audience follow and understand the story. While the use of music effectively went hand in hand with the tales. The instruments ranged from a flute to a saw, all of which were used in a separate way yet fitted so well together.

It wasn’t what I expected but I still enjoyed it. One of my favourite tale was definitely the ’Fat Cat’ because the person playing the cat created both a creepy and comedic vibe. Another of the folk tales that I enjoyed was ‘Two Fish’ because the music used was different and it helped add to the atmosphere. Overall, ‘Roots’ was good and very enjoyable. Definitely worth a watch.

Daryl Blackie


★★★★

‘I’m rooting for it'

Roots is an attention grabbing collection of old folk jokes told through animation acting and music. It really sparked my interest the way that the live music was played on so many unusual instruments and each instrument fitted with each unusual character. It was also interesting to me that the animation was so in time with the live actors and they way they moves and the the plot of the characters. I felt as if on edge not knowing how every joke was going to end as each had very different endings no one was expecting. I really enjoyed that all the actors had white face paint covering their whole face like a mime and they had very expressive faces which helped develop the story line overall the play was not what I had expected. 

My favourite joke was the one called Two Fish.

My favourite joke was the one called two fish which was about a family that went fishing and the parents got greedy and decided to kill of the child to get more fish this one was my favourite because it gave me the biggest shock and laugh at the all of a sudden plot change. I personally really enjoyed this style of theatre!  

Rhiannon Cummings 

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by Broughton High School students

★★★★★

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra left nothing to be desired as they made their premiere at the Edinburgh International Festival. Although he joked it was for the whisky, the conductor delighted in being there, performing a programme rich in nationalities and cultures. 

The orchestra looked and sounded as one, as they opened with a modern Chinese piece about the five elements, each conveyed so convincingly you could hear the trickling water and feel the bright, warm fire.

Dvorak’s famous cello concerto was brought to life by cellist Alisa Weilerstein. Weilerstein was in command of the audience throughout, and even the softest passages were clearly audible. Her relationship with the orchestra still felt quite new and there were moments where they seemed to be getting used to each other. Despite this, they interacted well, making a rich, lyrical sound. An encore finished off the first half beautifully.

During Shostakovich’s fifth symphony an extensive use of dynamics and contrast between the majestic sounds of the opening, the balletic second movement and the laments of the third movement made for a moving and immersive performance. The orchestra made a very powerful sound in the finale, ending with a majestic and defiant sound reaching a dynamic climax at the final sudden key change. The silence of the audience was broken with shouts of ‘bravo’ and thunderous applause.

Another encore, a ‘Chinese dessert’ as the conductor called it, used only strings. A satisfying end to the concert as it brought us back once again to China.

Stephanie Humphreys

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

More reviews of Shanghai Symphony Orchestra​

★★★★★

As soon as the conductor of the Shanghai Symphony orchestra walked on stage, the audience erupted in wild applause, which would only get louder throughout the evening. The orchestra’s performance was well constructed, with enthralling soloists and a perfect balance that caused shouts of ‘Bravo!’ to reign throughout the Usher Hall on the night. 

The diverse program began with Qigang Chen’s composition, Wu Xing (‘the five elements’). I found it a delightful fusion of eastern and western music, which proved to be a perfect introduction to the evening. It showcased the versatility of the orchestra, as they flowed from one movement to the next, emulating the sound of rushing water with percussion and strings. 

Next came Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, led by American soloist Alisa Weilerstein. The communication between Alisa and the orchestra was immaculate, leading to a passionate, impactful rendition. It caused such a reaction that Alisa rejoined the orchestra and played a short, wistful encore. 

Finally came the anticipated Symphony No. 5 composed by Shostakovich. The emotion the orchestra conveyed was breathtaking, with impassioned heights contrasting with the slower, sensitive largo. Many cheers echoed through the halls when it concluded. It was followed by an encore, returning to the eastern tones that embody the Shanghai Symphony orchestra, ending the evening gloriously. 

Overall, it was an impressive performance by an orchestra who clearly put its heart and soul into the performance, bringing the artistry of the Shanghai Symphony orchestra to the Edinburgh Festival for the first time in history. 

Josie Law 


★★★★★

The instant the conductor presented himself, a sharp, concentrated energy filled the auditorium, with all eyes focused on the leader of these exquisite, unique players.

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra - directed by Long Yu, is one of China’s world renowned classical ensembles – Performing in its 140th year, it has been praised universally for its colourful, and diverse style.

Opening the show with Wu Xing’s (The Five Elements’) These few beautifully crafted movements were intellectually performed with a great utopian, majestic feel. The audience was greeted with light euphonic sounds heavily in the woodwind and percussion section, tension was heard from the violins by repeatedly playing glissandos. 

There were pauses for suspense and eerie whistling from the woodwind section. To sign off, a wave of atonal, chaotic melodies followed by an abrupt, accented final chord left the audience impressed with an outstanding first impression.

Progressing further into the program, the Dvorák’s Cello Concerto in B Minor excelled in the hands of Alisa Weilerstein.

The unspoken musical connection between the solo cellist and the orchestra was immaculate. There were strong intertwined melodies, and the cello made a fierce but smooth musical entrance, being not only “one” with the cello, but a whole with the auditorium. 

The rest or the group responded to this positively, the cello helped to highlight sections of the orchestra and simply connected with the group. 

Concluding, the SSO captured the emotion of a piece by the structure and had a long lasting impact on its viewers.

Jo Collett 


★★★★★

The Shanghai Symphony Orchestra was absolutely incredible. I was in such a state of wonder the whole time, consumed by the remarkable music. The conductor Long Yu is spectacular at what he does, he sewed the whole orchestra together and made it sound phenomenal.

They first played Dvorak’s cello concerto in B minor, and I must say; astounding. The solo cellist, Alisa Weilerstein was one hell of a player!

The concerto had a powerful opening — whenever the orchestra played in unison, it sounded so thrilling. The strings sounded hauntingly beautiful and effortless. The music was very majestic in a lot of areas, the main theme being very bold. Sometimes the piece would sound bittersweet and just so beguiling, very nostalgic.

After the interval they went onto playing Shostakovich’s symphony No 5 in D minor. Personally, I was fond of this one more than the other. It immediately caught my attention as it had a mysterious, dark beginning. To me, this piece of music sounded like it was lost in a world trying to find a destination. It sounded hazy and confused in places and I really loved that about the piece. A lot of it was enchanting but slightly sinister — there were sections I thought sounded eerie but dazzling. I liked the Shostakovich more as I felt like there was a story — a work dominated by sadness and pain. It sometimes sounded fuzzy with glimmers of hope, but overall the piece was bewitching and drenched in beautiful agony.

Mhairi Hamilton


★★★★★

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s performance on Monday night was just outstanding. The orchestra’s dynamic as an ensemble was unbelievable. They worked so well together and played as one. The three big pieces; Wu Xing (The five elements) Mahler, Cello Concerto in B minor Dvořák and Symphony No.5 in D minor Shostakovich. The Mahler was a nice start to the concert; mysterious and abstract. The soloist (Alisa Weilerstein) was outstanding; her technique was amazing, she was very involved with the orchestra and the conductor (Long Yu) Her sound was rich and filling throughout. The wind section was the most dominant section, switching between the soloist for the melody, but played with grace and magic. Apart from the odd couple times where sections were out of tune. There are no words to explain how amazing the experience was. The final piece; the first violin changed, the way he played made us see he was most engaged whilst playing. He nearly stood up from his chair; This was very powerful move and showed that he was engaged. The timpanist was having fun whilst playing and just outstanding. The second movement in particular sounded very mystical and magical produced by the harp and flute solos; like a beautiful stream gently flowing past. The Shostakovich finale was rich, the chord marking the end produced an unimaginable sound that echoed through the Usher hall. Audiences rose from their chairs and, even exclaimed “BRAVO” which tells us it was incredible. Outstanding performance from the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra!

Amelia Szypczynska


★★★★★

Precision and passion from one of the world’s leading orchestras

This programme promised a whirlwind of romantic and 20th century music – Dvorak’s cello concerto performed by American soloist Ailsa Weilerstein, Shostakovich’s 5th symphony and ‘Wu Xing’ by Chinese composer Qigang Chen, however, the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra and their conductor, Long Yu, handled it with ease.

‘Wu Xing’ uses a plethora of contemporary techniques and sounds which engaged the audience and created a vivid atmosphere.

Dvorak’s cello concerto is arguably one of his finest works, with lush accompaniment and a soaring melodic line for the cello. Distinguished cellist Ailsa Weilerstein commanded the stage from her first note. Her playing was characteristic and suitably dramatic yet, in the second movement, the solo line soared above the accompaniment, wonderfully soft and gentle in comparison but equally as engaging. The piece was rounded off with a wonderfully exciting final movement which the orchestra and soloist handled deftly.

Shostakovich’s fifth symphony is well known for many reasons, and it certainly felt like the orchestra were at home playing it. A fiery opening to the first movement captivated the audience’s attention and held it throughout the piece. However, a more playful tone which appeared in the second movement gave the performance depth and subtlety. The fourth movement brought more of that engaging, dramatic playing which brought the audience to a deafening applause at the end.

This was a confident Edinburgh Festival debut from Asia’s oldest orchestra, performed flawlessly and enjoyed by all who witnessed it.

Esme MacBride-Stewart


★★★★

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra delighted us with their first ever performance in Edinburgh and the programme suited the occasion perfectly.

We are taken through an exhilarating romantic journey with Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5 and Dvorak’s B minor cello concerto.

The concert was opened with Wu Xing (“The Five Elements.”) All of which were very distinct from each other and portrayed each element with intriguing beauty.

Then came the Dvorak.

The conductor worked with the orchestra to create a silky, warm and luminous layer which accompanied Alisa comfortably, although at times I felt she was overpowered by the orchestra and her technically demanding phrases blended in with the strings and didn’t get the full audience attention they needed. The cellist had a clear passion for the music and she connected well with the audience through her beautiful melodic lines.

The opening section of the Shostakovich was thrilling and vigorous. I felt that the brass were slightly underwhelming for such an intense work, but the strings did not disappoint and continually grew the voluminous sound being created. The sinister like opening of the 1st movement unveiled into a gut-wrenching melody which makes the Symphony one of Shostakovich’s best. Shanghai Symphony Orchestra shared with us a wonderful programme and I hope they return to Edinburgh with another performance in the future.

Lucy Ruuskanen


★★★★

Shanghai Symphony Orchestra last night was breathtaking.

The Orchestra’s 140th anniversary year and first time playing at the Edinburgh International Festival began with Wu Xing’s ‘The Five Elements’. The smooth transitions from unsettling to etherial had us all on the edges of our seats. Their bright and clean sound warmed us up nicely for the synchronized bowing, intense and fulfilling orchestral sound to come.

The New York-born Cello Soloist, Alisa Weilerstein glided over the strings effortlessly as she played Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor and was joined by immaculate solos from members of the Orchestra.

Sometimes pieces can get too long and the audience can start to stir but everyone remained rapt. That is until she went on to play an encore when she lost the audience to some yawns and fidgets regardless of it being arguably the most beautiful melody of the night.   

Finishing with Shostakovich’s Symphony No.5 in D minor concluded an exciting, varied and well-chosen program. The orchestra shared a short intimate tune as an encore to give us a taste of Shanghai, sending you home with a warm string sound still ringing in your ears.

The performance exuded elegance and professionalism making it some of the finest orchestral playing I’ve seen.

A must-see. Four stars.

Keara Koterwas


★★★★

Even from the moment that the orchestral players began tuning up, the Usher Hall was filled with ribbons of different melodies, foretelling the complex pieces about to be performed by the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra. The opening piece Wu Xing (The Five Elements) by Qigang Chen captured each of the elements through a fascinating use of timbre- never have I heard an orchestra make such strange sounds! From light droplets to a rushing waterfall, Xing cleverly conveyed the character of water- and had the audience captivated. 

The second piece, Dvoraks’s Cello concerto in B minor, had an emotional and stormy opening, which gradually settled, and it seemed that the string section lay down a blanket of soft harmonies for the soloist, Alisa Weilerstein, to make her passionate entrance upon. The lilting melodies contrasted with gentle flowing passages and then again with turbulence... Weilerstein was a beautiful conveyor of the concerto’s emotion.

In the finale, Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 5, it seemed to me like the conductor, Long Yu, commanded the orchestra as if it were one body. The dramatic opening thundered through the hall and had the audience on the edge of their seats, recapturing each person’s attention after the interval. The haunting melodies and eerie pizzicato from the string section balanced alongside the lush and rich orchestration of each theme. As the mighty work ended with the regal crash of the cymbals, the entire hall resounded in applause.

Overall, an incredible performance that weaved a rich tapestry of musical emotion.

Elianna Proud


★★★★★

Nothing stimulates excitement quite like waiting in the exquisite Usher Hall with the warm buzz of chatter around you, watching the flash of violins and brass tuning and waiting for the lights to dim. This was certainly the atmosphere before the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra’s concert started - expectations were high and anticipation was even higher for this exciting and unique concert.

The first piece was Qigang Chen’s ‘Wu Xing’ also known as ‘The Five Elements’. Five short pieces, Water, Wood, Fire, Earth and Metal captured elegant imagery of each material. A favourite was ‘Water’ which was glassy smooth and gave strong impressions of movement. 

This was followed by Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor. A murmur of delight went up when Alisa Weilerstein, the soloist, walked on stage with her cello, sporting a vivid red dress. The sweet harmonies of the orchestra mingled with the soaring melodies of the cello as well as vigorous, thunderous call and responses created a brilliant and warming performance of the piece. Weilerstein even came back on stage again to play a pre-interval encore. 

The final piece was Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony in D minor which stirred a range of emotions with playful plucking to tremendous swells to glamorous waltzing, concluding with an electrifying finish – memories of which raise hairs on the back of my neck. The clapping echoed around the hall for longer than usual and still resounds in my ears, meaning only one thing – the performance tonight was nothing short of a success.

Xander Proud


★★★★★

To hear the Shanghai Orchestra who had travelled across half the world to play tonight was a certain treat. The packed night began with a Chinese suite “Wu Xing” translating to The Five Elements. The movements displayed the orchestra’s elegance and mystery, demonstrating the players’ unity with their instruments.

Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, one of his finest works, soon followed. The soloist Alisa Weilerstein glided onstage in a breath-taking red gown and launched confidently into the Allegro. She beautifully captured the heartache the composer must have felt as he wrote the music, a pain of losing his first true love. Her detailed and precise playing matched the Usher Hall’s intricate interior as if the building was designed for her. I wasn’t alone in thinking the second movement was especially beautiful, with a sea of heads swaying as the resonating melody floated over to where we sat transfixed.

The Shanghai musicians managed to top this performance with Shostakovich’s symphony no.5 in D minor, which was as close to perfection as thought possible. The orchestra’s accuracy and musicality made listening exciting, with exaggerated dynamics illustrating the soul-wrenching darkness. The movements juxtaposed exquisitely, and an astounding finale that filled the acoustic ended in cheers and an applause that still rings in my ears. 

The conductor Long Yu lead his orchestra with expertise, and it was delightful to hear that the woodwind section were arranged to better win the usual battle of being unheard over the mass of strings.

Mika Konishi Gaffney


★★★★★

A breath of fresh air describes this evening as the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra premiered in the world-renowned Edinburgh International Festival, performing a captivating concoction of European and Asian music.

The concert started off incredibly strong as the orchestra quickly set the tone and completely changed the atmosphere of the hall. The busy buzz of people getting organised was suspended from the very first few notes. One could easily drift off into a trance, hearing and seeing the waves and ripples the orchestra was creating with not only their instruments but with their bodies as they swayed to the ripples of sound.

The Elements were swiftly followed by the powerful Dvořák Cello Concerto in B minor performed with the talented US cellist, Alisa Weilerstein. Once again, the powerful entrance of the orchestra and soloist were big and bold, the sound created was immense.

The heavy vibrato from the string section created a luscious sound along with the brasses regal fanfares created the perfect balance, never too loud or quiet as the orchestras ability to dramatically change from a booming sound to a whisper in milliseconds never failed to impress.

The Shostakovich was filled with chromaticism and heavy imitation. The hall was filled with anticipation to hear this characterful piece and were not let down as the orchestra romped through its dramatic twists and turns.

“Dessert” was served, as described by the conductor and the concert ended with a quirky encore, a loud “Bravo!” and a deafening rapture of applause.  

Alicia Soares

Eugene Onegin
Reviewed by Tynecastle High School students 

★★★★★

Tchaikovsky’s, Eugene Onegin is a lyrical opera based on a poem by Alexander Pushkin. Performed by The Komische Oper Berlin and directed by Barrie Kosky it is a beautiful portrayal of the story of Eugene Onegin, a selfish hero who lives to regret past actions, namely the killing of his best friend, Lensky, and his ruthless rejection of a young women’s love. 

It’s almost a full house and there is an air of expectancy in the theatre as the orchestra warms up, a reminder that this is high art, the ‘real’ thing. Then the curtain rises and hush falls as brightly lit rural a setting is revealed.

The image is ironic for there is some brilliant comedy from the incomparable Margarita Nekrasova, whose performance as the worldly-wise nanny, Flippyeva, acts as a foil to the intensely love stricken Tatyana. Arguably, these two are the real stars of the piece, though Oleksiy Palchykov who played Lenski’s moving Aria gives both a run for their money.  

Best of all, was Tatyana’s heart-breaking aria, performed beautifully by Asmik Grigorian and telling of her longing for Onegin. It was deeply moving performance and stands in a class of its own. Her voice cut straight to the heart as did her transition from the insecure and love-stuck girl to confident and self-assured women who in the end rejected Onegin’s love and instead remained loyal to her husband.

Hers was an emotional journey for cast and audience alike.

Rachel Lewis

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

More reviews of Eugene Onegin

★★★★★

From my seat in the top tier, I had a birds-eye view of the theatre. I could hear the orchestra warming up and the audience were chatting excitedly. It was clear to see: everyone in the audience was completely and utterly captivated. 

Upon entering the theatre, just before the show began, there was an air of excitement and anticipation for the act that was about to be shown. As the evening progressed, the production delved deeper into a broken love story, between the young and dreamy Tatyana (played by Asmik Grigorian) and the charming yet obnoxious Eugene Onegin (performed by Gunter Papendell).   

As the first opera I have ever been to, I would highly recommend to anyone that they go and see “Eugene Onegin”. Initially, I was very conflicted in my opinions about orchestral music and the opera itself, but as the night went on I became encapsulated by its beauty. Sitting, closely packed into a large audience, songs echoing around the theatre, I knew that the performance would be one to remember.

From the stunning red velvet gowns to the stage sets, everything about “Eugene Onegin” was captivating. Despite the performance being sung in Russian, with screens at either side of the stage helping to translate, the strength of the characters emotions could still be felt, due to the incredible voices and careful choreography.

Maya Watson 


★★★★

The atmosphere in the theatre was electrifying as the curtain drew back and the orchestra began to play. I remember thinking, this is classical music and it’s live!

The stage sets were simple but striking, a forest deep in the heart of Russia on the summer’s day. Two older women dressed in black are preparing for a picnic. They are playful and the chorus keeps the mood alive, magnificently. The music and their voices were uplifting.

Amid all the merrymaking, is Tatyana, brilliantly played by the wonderful, Asnik Grigorian. Her chair is set apart, which helps to shown that she is a vulnerable young soul, bookish and naïve, a dreamy girl who falls head-over heals for Onegin, played by Gunter Papendell.

Both performances are strong, but in truth, as the performance progressed we watch, mesmerised as Tatyana blossoms from a young female who had her head stuck in the clouds to a sophisticated, confident woman. Tatyana’s heartfelt aria was the stand out moment of the whole performance as she confessed her feelings for Onegin, exposing her vulnerable side. Shockingly, he shot her down, but over time she becomes confident of who she. 

The most moving moment was near the end of the opera, when the rain pours down, and the two lovers are finally reunited only to go their separate ways, and it will forever be etched in my mind, both the emotion and the music.

This was a powerfully performance.   

Chloe Clarke


★★★★★

An ordinary sixteen-year old boy has been transported to an extraordinary world, compliments of the Komische Oper Berlin and their outstanding performance of Barrie Kosky’s production of Eugen Onegin.

The atmosphere in the theatre was something else. As soon as the curtain rose and the overture started, audience was captivated by the joyful summer’s day. There was warmth and humour too.  

Tatyana is a dreamy young girl who falls for the handsome Onegin. The artist who played Tatyana, Asmik Grigorian, was breath taking. She represented the character so well, from being a love-struck young girl to a strong and powerful woman. Her voice was full of emotion and she made made the audience cry. 

The costumes were sumptuous, from the pastel shades of the richer people in country society, to the sophisticated costumes of the aristocrats in St Petersburgh. It helped to take the audience to a different world, the world of the elite in Russia. The most memorable is Tatyana’s striking blood-red dress, which portrays a very passionate and mature woman who is self-assured and in control of herself, a million miles away from who she was when she first met Onegin and fell under his spell.

Other performances that stood out, like Papendell’s ambiguous Onegin. Not sympathetic at first but pitiful when realises that he has been a fool. 

My message to all my peers is this. Go and try some opera!  You will not be disappointed.

Reece Mack


★★★★★

As the curtain rose and the orchestra began to play, the atmosphere in the room was alive with expectation. We were not to be disappointed. Barrie Kosky’s production of Eugene Onegin, a story of thwarted love, was brilliantly performed by the Konische Oper Berlin. 

The chorus sung magnificently and created a real sense of celebration. This contrasted with the dreamy isolation of Tatyana, who for the most part sat aloof from the crowd, engrossed in her book, a symbol of her romantic nature. Asmik Grigorian’s performance of the lovestruck Tatyana, especially her aria in which she expresses her longing for Onegin, was heart-breaking. 

Worth mentioning is Tatyana’s transformation from a naïve young girl with her head in the clouds to a sophisticated and wise woman loved and admired by her peers. This was aided by the sumptuous costumes, not least the beautiful red-velvet dress she wore when she was finally reunited with Onegin at a ball in St Petersburgh.

As moving was Lensky’s aria about lost innocence, beautifully sung by Olaksiy-Palchykov. The performance was so full of emotion and lamentation for the past that some in the audience were moved to tears. As for Papendell’s arrogant and foolish Onegin, I found his portrayal of the tortured soul, regretful of his callous dismissal of the young Tatyana and the death of his best friend, lensky in a duel, convincing, if less moving than that of Tatyana.

An engrossing and moving performance.    

Jasmine Graham

Oedipus | Photo: Ryan Buchanan
Oedipus
Reviewed by The Royal High School students

★★★★★ Greek Excellence

Robert Icke’s Oedipus is a brilliantly gripping modernisation of the Greek tale. From start to finish, this masterpiece will have you on the edge of your seat. Every word, every prolonged silence, every pause, is beautiful.

We follow the story of Oedipus, who has latterly finished an election campaign. The blind prophet Teiresias (Hugo Koolschijn) conveys a disturbing prophecy to Oedipus involving a riddle which baffles Oedipus, causing fury and controversy among his family.

The tension between the characters in this play creeps up and almost strangles you. Every moment we are invested in each character’s thoughts and feelings. We feel for the characters and what troubles and stress they’re going through.

Hans Kesting portrays an excellent Oedipus, complimented by an impressive chemistry with Marieke Heebink as Jocaste. The relationship feels authentic due to the commendable performances by Kesting and Heebink.

Sound designer Tom Gibbons deserves an unbelievable amount of credit in this production. His fine work is instrumental to the quality of the play. Every piece of music was perfection, and sends chills up the spines of those in attendance.

The combination of Icke’s direction, the spectacular performance by the cast and the stupendous work by the production make Oedipus a gargantuan success. The production is faultless, and most will struggle to not be deeply affected emotionally by this work of art. Some would even be left speechless.

Thomas Nightingale

(Winning review, printed in The Herald)

More reviews of Oedipus

★★★★

Robert Icke’s version of Oedipus starts under the bright, fluorescent lights of a campaign headquarter’s kitchen in the countdown to the announcement of results following a tense recent election. Oedipus is a main contender and public favourite. Together with his extended family, Oedipus tragically pieces together his own history, namely his relationship with Jocaste - his wife, and shockingly, mother - all while the clock counts down.

Set designer Hildegard Bechtler has had her work cut out, seeing as she has managed to install what appears to be a full Ikea display kitchen tactfully onto the stage of the King’s Theatre in Edinburgh. At first this seems uninspired, but we quickly see how this simple set-up works. A propped-up mirror acts as a lasting reminder of Tiresias’s riddle: “it turns everything around but it stands still itself.” These simple props express key themes of the play by acting as a blank canvas for heart-wrenching drama to take place. And there’s no shortage of it.

While following the storyline of Sophocles’ original, this version has been cleverly adapted to be relevant now. Characters like Jocaste are played with liveliness and grit that it seems every character in this play requires. This is done by actors like Marieke Heebink who excellently concoct an overall thoughtful and ultimately emotional performance. With truths and pasts being exposed, all under the shadow of a digital clock on stage counting down every second, this Dutch language production will leave you wondering: “Why live in the past?”

Daniel Hoyle


★★★★

Robert Icke brought this challenging story to the modern day excitement of a political campaign. His clever adaptation, helping us reform our views of the “incestuous murder monster” to a fragile man.

This was not the tragic story of an abandoned baby which many have heard of. It dealt with current struggles of modern masculinity, adoption and incest. Indeed, this pressure on Oedipus to keep his true identity hidden during an election, reveals the toxicity of politics that connects greatly to the modern setting: “this world turns on lies”.

The family’s playful dinner showing, added comedy and wit to this otherwise intense production. Frieda Pittoors’ adaptation of Merope, a widow and desperate mother who couldn’t bear a child, helps create a heart-warming experience. Although the music did not fit the dramatisation of the play, the impressive acting of Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink continued to bring us back to the atoms sphere of the play. 

The development of Oedipus’ character (set to great dramatic irony), gripped the audience and helped us to see the innocence within this story. These actors effectively made it a lively and engaging production for everyone (even if you knew the story beforehand). 

The countdown timer on stage created a hurried atmosphere as events unfolded in real time. The innovative set sliders and actors changing costume on stage added a certain originality to this well-known play. Overall, this play which leads to the lamentable truth of Oedipus was a moving production which cannot be forgotten.

Emily Goddard


★★★★★

A story of suspense and heavy atmosphere, Oedipus (Hans Kesting) is brought to life by director Robert Icke in a modern setting, following the life of a political leader. The play is performed in Dutch, while still easily understandable through the raw emotion conveyed by the actors. Truths are revealed and things take a dark turn. A real life countdown builds anticipation as we wait for the clock to hit zero and the characters to realise the ugly truth.

The set includes a TV displaying the news in the back, reminding us of the events occurring in the outside world and the ever growing support for Oedipus. Throughout, parts of the set begin to disappear, as the characters slowly begin to understand the truth, which adds a symbolic detail to the performance. 

The use of sound and music helps to create a tense atmosphere when needed, as you sit on the edge of your seat, waiting to see how the story will unfold. At times, the silence becomes heavy as the only sound is that of the characters’ voices, a reminder of how alone they feel in their situation.

When the countdown is over it feels as though it is just the characters in themselves, no campaign, no election. However as the chanting for Oedipus’s victory speech gets louder, we are reminded of everything he has on the line; his reputation, dignity, and family. We are left shocked at the ending, despite knowing it from the start.

Sophie Roberts


★★★★★

The ancient Greek tragedy “Oedipus” modernised by Robert Icke, to a tale where Oedipus is running for Presidency instead of becoming king, is both terrifying and yet very captivating.

The story consist of Oedipus, our protagonist, in the final runnings of an election for presidency. But little does he know, that during this dreadful two hour countdown (of which there is a timer in the background) leading to the final results, he must find out the truth of his family. In a frightening story of death, cover stories, adoption, evil, and incest.

To many it may be difficult at first to view this performance as it is completely in Dutch, with English subtitles. And it can become confusing to watch what is happening on stage whilst reading the translations. However, throughout the duration of the performance, it becomes an easy flow of reading and watching.

The acting in the performance is by far the best I have seen in a long while and there is a very natural feel of family in joyous moments, and the bickering (even if all is not as it first appears). There is never a dull moment, even in the dark silence, which only adds more to the tension and story. 

Overall, between Robert Icke, the fantastic cast, and everyone behind the scenes. They have perfectly modernised this old tale to make it relatable without losing the terror of Greek tragedy which is simply remarkable. A definite to see, just maybe not with the family.

James Stevenson


★★★★★

Robert Icke’s powerful Oedipus adaption can take you from laughter to tears in minutes. Sophocles’ Athenian tragedy – originating around 429BC – achieves relevance in today’s world with this modern makeover. As the lights dim you are transported into a fluorescent lit room where the clock counts down for 110 minutes in real time. The anticipation builds and builds throughout and as the timer runs out there is a terrible moment of realisation, with tension reaching peak.

Icke’s Oedipus has the mythical Greek King of Thebes reborn as a popular political candidate awaiting the results after a hard-fought election campaign. Promising change and honesty in his politics, Oedipus becomes caught in a dilemma over his own sincerity involving his heartbreaking youthful mistakes and several seemingly improbable coincidences that come back to haunt him.

Icke certainly succeeds in commanding audience attention despite the prolepsis essentially being declared at the beginning, one becomes increasingly eager to uncover how Oedipus’s hapless fortune is fulfilled. The cast help captivate the audience, all of them notable, but standouts being Oedipus himself (Hans Kesting), his wife Jocaste (Marieke Heebink) and mother Merope (Frieda Pittoors). The trio were able to perfectly change the mood in a split second from a peaceful family conversation, that rapidly descends into comedic chaos and then back to dead serious enunciation in an instant. This dramatic metamorphosis of tone can be startling, keeping the audience on their toes and their hearts beating double time until the end.

Lewis Wetton

★★★★★

Robert Icke’s new modern adaption of the Greek myth ‘Oedipus’ is a surprising and unsettling production which powerfully examines the cruel nature of life, and calls into question whether we can really know the truth about our ourselves, and if we should even want to know.

With the story set in a campaign centre of operations awaiting the results of a Dutch election which he is strongly favoured to win, Hans Kesting’s Oedipus struggles relentlessly against the prophecy forced upon him at the start of the night, that he will marry his mother and murder his father, but his struggle for the truth only takes him further into the despair and depravity of his family’s true nature. 

Beginning with a hopeful and buoyant atmosphere, Oedipus and his family celebrate what could be their last night together before he attempts to restore his country to its former greatness, yet as more and more of the truth is revealed to him he becomes trapped, with the clock counting down the minutes until he discovers the horrid truth. Marieke Heebink gives an astonishing performance as Jocaste, Oedipus’s loving wife, as she too grapples with a brutal past she thought she had left behind, only for it to catch up to her in the most violent and shocking way. Her consistently unfair treatment at the hands of the universe makes the conclusion to the production all the more disturbing, and it is that cruelty of fate which leaves such a lasting impression.

Cameron Millar


★★★★

You walk into the theatre and the sound of a clock ticking echoes and you are immediately given a growing sense of anxiety and of time running out. The actors and playwright set up who the characters are early on and establishes make sure you know Oedipus is a kind and honest man that wants nothing but the truth. We are then provided with a riddle, given by the prophet who has foreseen oedipus’ fall from the beginning the riddle is ”It turns everything around, but it stands still” and this is brought up many times throughout the play with the answer to the riddle, a mirror, being placed on set right from the beginning. The theme of time and the truth runs all the way throughout the play and is used to emphasise important moments well. The ticking of a clock and the topic of love and acceptance being brought back at pivotal points allow for the suspense to build until the very climax where everything is revealed to Oedipus and you watch as his world collapses around him. For a Greek tragedy they did extremely well updating it for a more modern take and everything fits so naturally. Just when things seem to start linking up, all the relationships seem to tumble out of control on stage and all you can do is hold your breath and hope for a happier ending than the one you know you will get. The playwright did an amazing job with Oedipus.

Ruth Stewart


★★★★

As soon as we entered the theatre, the play began. A beautifully designed set lay in front of us, full of small, yet significant, details as to what we are about to witness. A key piece we are instantly drawn to is a giant countdown clock, which as time progresses, becomes almost terrifying after we are thrown through the adapted drama.

Robert Icke has created less of a play and more of an art piece. Every little detail, from sound to costume design, has been beautifully crafted as to make the story, though sometimes a little far fetched, entertaining. The highly talented International Theatre Amsterdam only further powered this by giving an utterly incredible performance, full of equally heart pumping and eye watering scenes. 

The new adaptation from Icke is a beautiful blend of the original story and our modern lives. However at some points I felt a bit lost in the entangled storylines. As soon as the screen rises and the cast begins their craft, I can’t help but feel as though we are already thrown in the deep end- it feels like the modern adaptation has a higher chance of getting  lost in.

That being said, as the clock hits zero seconds, we all feel beautifully connected to every character and their struggles. In the final flashback scene, both the audience and cast feels bittersweet. Whilst the cast go back to their homes and get ready for their next performance, the audience walks out in a zombie-like state, too emotional about letting go of such a beautiful production.

Cameron Archbold


★★★★

Robert Icke’s Oedipus is a visually gripping slice of theatre, which grabs a hold of you and does not let go until its stunning conclusion. The journey evokes many emotions from the audience, with Icke’s masterstroke of a take on this classic Greek tale touching the hearts of the onlooking audience, bewildered at the maturity shown by the multi-talented cast, including a variety of big names such as Hans Kesting and Marieke Heebink. These two characters compliment each other massively within the production, with Heebink playing the twisted role of mother and wife of Oedipus.

The play follows Oedipus throughout his election campaign, in which he promises to better the country for citizens, gaining monumental support due to his likeability. The ‘antagonist’ of this piece of theatre is the blind psychic Tiresias (Hugo Koolschijn) who tells Oedipus he has slept with his mother. The finale of the play reveals to us that Oedipus had married his biological mother and had kids with her. This startling revelation forces Jocaste to commit suicide, hence concluding the play.

The cast and producers excellently combine their creative techniques to conjure up this showing of the timeless classic, brimming from start to finish with beautiful performances and eye-watering scenes. The play brought many audience members to silence, the theatre in awe at the marvel that they have just witnessed, unable to put into words how powerful this piece of art really was. The audience gave the performers a well-deserved standing ovation for a stupendous production. 

Zavian Khalil


★★★★

‘Let nature take its course’. Oedipus, directed by Robert Icke, is the modernised tale of the Greek twisted tragedy involving the greed for power and incestuous relationship between a mother and son. 

Before the play begins a short political propaganda video is shown portraying Oedipus surrounded by revelling supporters. It creates this sense of prosperity and hope towards Oedipus which contradicts to the tragedy. 

What’s most prominent is the clock to the side of the stage counting down from ‘dag, uur, min, sec’. The time till tragedy. It reinforces the idea that the facts were there from the beginning but don’t become a revelation till the end.

The use of only one setting throughout the play made it feel real and authentic. The audience was no longer the audience and more of another family member around the dinner table or a painting on the wall spying in on the inhabitants.

Hans Kesting, a film star and veteran performer, portrayed Oedipus. His use of emotion in each word that left his mouth left many silences in the theatre. One instance of this is when he finds out Jocaste is his mother. He stumbles back uttering his disbelief, leaving the audience stunned.

As the curtains drew in the shock of what entailed in those two hours were felt within everyone. Robert Icke has changed this ancient tale into something magnificent, something new and something that will surely stay with those who view it forever.

Anna Aikman


★★★★★

Frozen in our seats, the theatre is ominously still.


I can’t move. I don’t want to move. And I can feel the rest of the audience feeling the same way. 
My heart throbs in my chest as we hear the roars of the crowds grow louder and louder. They sound almost malicious after the events that have just taken place. I’m begging for the curtain not to rise again. I can’t bear to see what horrific scene has been left behind.

The stage is not a stage, but a working office. There’s a clock counting down 2 hours, supposedly the time until the election results are revealed. Oedipus (Hans Kesting), a family man, wanting to change a broken world, is sure to win.

The countdown hits zero as the penny drops that Jocaste (Mericke Heebink), Oedipus’ wife, is really his mother. Their relationship is torn apart in front of us and you can see the heartbreak and lust he feels towards her. The air is tight and a sudden end of their own lives leaves the audience stunned in the darkness. Nobody can look away.

An outrageous plot, set in such a simple setting, in a language which I do not understand. Who knew it would be so gripping? Kesting and Heebink‘s raw, captivating, performance had the whole audience in the palm of their hands. They could drag out a moment for hours and nobody would bat an eye. 

Simple and complex, heartwarming and horrifying- Oedipus twisted my heart.

Rae Ashcroft

08 08 2019 Eif Hard To Be Soft Gaelle Beri 3

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