Muster Station: Leith (EIF)

August 20, 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Chilling

Leith Academy: Mon 15 – Fri 26 Aug
Review by Thom Dibdin

Muster Station: Leith, by immersive theatre specialists Grid Iron for the EIF, uses the halls and corridors of Leith Academy to suggest what it might be like when the climate emergency reaches a crisis point, here, in Edinburgh.

In the future conceived by lead writer and director Ben Harrison, maybe some 20 years of so hence, the UK is expected to be hit by 100 meter wave in six days time – and counting. The populace is being brought to muster stations around the country, ready for evacuation to Finland. Among them, the audience for the show.

Rachel Bruce interrogates an audience member in Muster Station: Leith by Grid Iron at the EIF. Pic: Jess Shurte

This is an attempt to address what it might be like to be among the displaced and dispossessed we see on our media all the time – those lost in conflicts and natural disaster. Events which are currently distant and unconnected to our own reality, but perhaps hinted at by Covid-19.

Indeed, the initial design aesthetic is drawn directly from the Covid experience, with the main processing hall done out as if for mass Covid vaccination. Later, four scenes created in rooms around the school give a different kind of depth to the experience.

It’s hard to define exactly where the edges of performance lie. Big “Muster Station” signs on the way into the Academy are surrounded by tacked up pictures of lost people. The ushers have “guardian” on their tabards as they queue you up for processing under the eyes of security people, ominously marked “Force”.

Processing into four groups takes time. It pauses sometimes as the immersive fourth wall is broken to hear the thoughts of the processing clerks. People try and jump the queue. A woman from Corstorphine has bought her way in. A local man claims to be a key worker. Another wanders the hall, a cleaner here of many years, whose cynicism begins to sow doubt.

something has happened in Arbroath

Each adds hints to what has happened around the world to cause the calamity and around Scotland to indicate the UK Government and DEVAC – Department of Evacuation UK’s – response. Clearly something has happened in Arbroath, people are confined within ten miles of their homes and what about these Arks?

Joseph Ogeleka and Pauline Goldsmith in Muster Station: Leith by Grid Iron at the EIF. Pic: Jess Shurte

It is seamlessly done. The feeling of losing of control is created simply by being made to put your phone in a sealed bag. It all sets up the ensuing 20 minute visits to the four rooms nicely.

One, written with great dramatic strength by Tawona Sitholé, is set in a holding pen where Pauline Goldsmith’s Claire arrives, lost, separated from her daughter and certain she is in the wrong place. There is a beautifully judged swing of power between her and Joseph Ogeleka’s Chamu, already a refugee, already looking for his boy. It is electric, seeing both actors up so close create such realism.

In the library, Nicola McCartney has opted for a more surreal approach as Olivia Sikora’s Finnish immigration officer Lina issues forms and, in flights of fancy that hint at bloody struggles elsewhere, suggests at how to fill them in. Books open to reveal magical interiors. But her stories are graphic in the horror of their detail. Such detail, she says, is not needed. Just names.

the Big Jump

The school swimming pool is the stage for Harrison’s own piece. Dan (Tijan Sarr), Fran (Naomi Stirrat and Zara (Shyvonne Ahmmad) holiday off Fife on a rubber dingy, gossiping of the Big Jump, a flash-mob suicide pact on the Queensferry Crossing. ​When they flee Scotland in the dingy, a Finnish helicopter offers safety, but only to one. Who should be saved?

Muster Station: Leith by Grid Iron at the EIF. Pic: Jess Shurte

There is rebellion in the air for Uma Nada-Rajah’s piece, the most immersive and, ironically, the least effective, of the four, in which Paul McCole’s would-be resistance leader Billy hustles the group into the exercise room.

McCole almost immediately comes into conflict with Rachel Bruce as Izzy, who favours a more subtle approach to his brute force. Nada-Rajay smoothly smuggles a great deal of information into the piece, but the immersive element is clunky and, by attempting to be quirky as well as real, just does not ring true.

If the writing creates its own reality, the whole production is shot through with Grid Iron’s meticulous attention to detail, led from the top by Karen Tennent’s set and costumes, Simon Wilkinson’s lighting and David Paul Jones’ sound design. The application forms with the DEVAC logo, the signs around the venue, the tabards and constant ticking of a clock all help the immersive element.

incongruous

However, when the finale plays out, back in the transformed and dimly lit processing hall, now decked out with blankets and sleeping mats, the company let everything breath out a little too much. It all becomes a bit contemplative with an incongruous dance piece from Emily Jane Boyle.

The moment feels lost. Honeyed balm to smooth over what should be a truly chilling realisation: that only a few can be chosen to survive – and they have already left.

There is plenty to chew over here – Tawona Sitholé in particular has important things to say of colonialism and refugees. Nicola McCartney touches raw nerves of contemporary conflict.

And for all that this is theatre, there is no escaping the realisation that it is right on one thing: the time for dire warnings is past. The question now, is what to do.

Running time: Two hours and 35 minutes (no interval).
Leith Academy, 20 Academy Park EH6 8JQ (EIF venue)
Monday 15 – Friday 26 August 2022
Evenings (not Mon22): 7.30pm; Matinee Sun 21: 2pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Edinburgh international Festival: https://www.eif.co.uk/

Gridiron website: http://gridiron.org.uk
Facebook: @gridirontheatre
Twitter: @gridirontheatre

Muster Station: Leith by Grid Iron at the EIF. Pic: Jess Shurte

ENDS

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