13 Sunken Years

Aug 16 2014 | By More

✭✭✭✭✩  River of emotion

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20) Mon 11 – Sat 23 Aug 2014

Intriguingly stark, elusive and completely human, Stellar Quines and Lung Ha’s co-production of 13 Sunken Years has a poetic and mysteriously gripping quality.

Nicola Tuxworth and Louise Ludgate. Photo: Douglas Jones

Nicola Tuxworth and Louise Ludgate. Photo: Douglas Jones

Helena Koskinen disappears just as her daughter Eva is about to graduate from high school in a small Finnish town by a river. Eva must abandon her dreams of further education, remaining behind to care for her grandmother, while the mystery of her mother’s actions remains unsolved.

Paula Salminen’s play combines domestic drama with ruminations on the wider world, attempting to give what it calls ‘an idea of the human scale’ while directing its focus on a small area. In this it is extremely successful.

Maria Oller’s direction echoes these ambitions, providing an atmosphere which shies away from a documentary approach in favour of an emotional realism that is not always subtle but is always effective.

Nicola Tuxworth as Eva combines fragility and grace, love and hate, frustration and restraint, in a central performance of real power.

tantalisingly out of reach

Anne Lacey, as the grandmother Ursula, achieves such truth in her portrayal of a woman with dementia that there is a moment where it threatens to become unbearable; but even this is shot through with humour as the fractured chronological structure gives us hints of earlier times. This non-linear approach helps to flesh out the character of mother Helena (Louise Ludgate), whose disappearance sparks off the events of the story, but whose real history and motivations remain tantalisingly out of reach.

Billy Mack and Nicola Tuxworth. Photo: Douglas Jones

Billy Mack and Nicola Tuxworth. Photo: Douglas Jones

Stephan Tait and Ben Winger, as Eva’s childhood friends, add greatly to the impact of the story, while the excellent Billy Mack’s lock-keeper Eki combines rawness and delicacy, giving his character symbolic strength without ever losing its rooted believability.

Once again, there are things about these characters that are never fully explained. Even as the story is resolved, there are threads left hanging, and there is no attempt to tie things up neatly. There is an air of something unfinished, but this enhances the experience rather than detracting from it.

There is an air of mystery that is simultaneously combined with a deeply felt sense of place. The setting is very definitely Finland, but this production manages to layer a Scottish feel on top of this, helped in no small way by Eva Buchwald’s limpid, poetic translation.

Jan Bee Brown’s set reinforces this combination of the concrete and the poetically elusive. As well as featuring versatile wooden structures, use is made of some lengths of shimmering material, one of which is the river that is central to the story. It does more than just represent the river – the cast ‘swim’ in it. This is a masterstroke, as it means the river is always there on the stage without ever dominating it.

Simon Wilkinson’s lighting is direct and searching without ever being unsubtle, adding to an atmosphere which is stark and plain, but never depressing or melodramatic. Instead, there are touches of humanity in even the bleakest moments, and love apparently lying behind even cruelty or neglect.

Some of this is puzzling, much of it is not easily assimilated, but there can be no denying the emotional or visual power of the production.

13 Sunken Years is part of the Made in Scotland showcase.

Running time 1 hour 10 minutes
The Assembly Rooms, 54 George Street, EH2 2LR (Venue 20)
Mon 11 – Sun 24 Aug 2014 (not Mon 18)
Daily at 2.05 pm
Tickets from https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/13-sunken-years
Stellar Quines website: www.stellarquines.com
Lung Ha’s website: www.lunghas.co.uk
13 Sunken Years website: www.13sunkenyears.com

13 Sunken Years on tour:
11 – 24 August 2014 Edinburgh
Assembly Rooms
Book online
26 August 2014 Greenock
Beacon Arts Centre
01475 723723 Book online
27 August 2014 Paisley
Paisley Arts Centre
0300 300 1210 Book online
29 August 2014 Hawick
Heart of Hawick
01450 360688 Book online


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