Feb 13 2024 | By More

★★★★☆     Dark

Traverse Theatre: Sat 10/Sun 11 February 2024
Review by Thom Dibdin

Tortoise in a Nutshell has brought all its considerable prowess in live animation to the stage with Ragnarok, a dark and foreboding take on an ancient Norse myth, foretelling the end of our world.

The Ragnarok myth is largely concerned with gods and their doings in an epic final battle which burns and then floods the Earth, before it rises cleansed from the waters with only two survivors. Here, Edinburgh-based TiaN with Norwegian company Figurteatret i Nordland retell the myth in an all-too possible modern-day setting.

A early scene from Ragnarok as Aya searches for food. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic.

On tour round Scotland but stopping at the Traverse for two performances only as part of the Manipulate festival, Ragnarok uses tiny plaster figures, placed in a model city designed by Arran Howie. These are filmed with hand-held cameras and projected onto a circular screen above the stage.

Technically, this feels like the ultimate Brechtian take on model animation, with all the working of the piece visible on stage. The dialogue is on a pre-recorded soundtrack, but the music and sound is created live on stage by Jim Harbourne, hidden upstage, below and behind the screen.

accuracy and artistry

It is fascinating to see the level of accuracy and artistry from the on-stage performers and camera operators: Emily Nicholl, Dylan Read and Jessica Innes, as they move figures and model buildings around

In this retelling the people of the world have lived in harmony, but are now become greedy for more and more consumer goods. In their wars and conflict, there is now little or no food left.

Use of masks in Ragnarok. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic.

A young girl called Aya is found scavenging food for her Gran and wee brother, wandering a destroyed cityscape peopled by mobs and with unsettling events happening in ever corner. In her hunger – or is it reality? – she can hear a raven, telling her of the world’s end.

It is heartrending stuff. Director Alex Bird first brings Aya into focus and then shows what she sees as she explores the broken streets that feel horribly familiar to the shelled cities of Ukraine or Gaza. Later, when she sets off into the countryside on a journey that will take her through forests to a seaside cottage on the edge of the world, the focus draws back to see the enormity of her travels.

This later section is not quite as successful, there is a less of an ability to show the details that make the early parts of the production so compelling. Yet the journey is well documented with its continuing fascination between what is seen on stage and what is projected on screen.

next-level storytelling

The early parts are next-level storytelling, deeply disturbing and organised down to the last detail: the ravens glimpsed on walls and ledges above the streets; a van bringing food later seen besieged and its driver lying dead nearby; a mystical white reindeer that appears out of the corner of Aya’s eye but is gone when she looks again.

The later parts of Aya’s journey open up the theatre space. Pic Mihaela Bodlovic

The script, created with dramaturgy from Nicola McCartney, is sparse but telling. The reliance here is on what is seen and what is implied, not what is told outright. It is the words of the raven that provide the narrative structure – and Gran’s instructions to Aya on how to escape the city.

Above and around the models, Simon Wilkinson’s precise lighting is intrinsic to the success of the whole production, focussing right in on tiny areas of the stage. And when the gods arrive, the snake, the wolf and death itself, created as masks by the performers, Wilkinson frames them in a crepuscular half-light.

Harbourne’s soundscape is haunting and beautiful at times, but at others terrifying, like the clashing and grinding of glaciers.

It is hard to “like” such a nihilistic, doom-laden piece of work. If it were told only using the projected images, it would be almost unbearably bleak. However, by opening up the process, Theatre in a Nutshell and Figurteatret i Nordland allow us to engage on a different intellectual level, as we come to understand – and come to terms with – the truth of what the piece has to say.

Running time: One hour and 10 minutes (no interval)
Traverse Theatre, 10 Cambridge Street, EH1 2ED.
Sat 10/Sun 11 February 2024
Evenings: 8pm (Traverse 1)
Run ended.

Ragnarok on Tour

Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Fri 16/Sat 17 Feb 2024.
Evenings 7.30pm, Sat mat 2.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Dundee Rep
Tue 20/Wed 21 Feb.
Evenings: 7.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Byre Theatre, St Andrews
Friday 23 February
One show: 7pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Eden Court, Inverness
Tue 27/Wed 28 Feb 2024
Evenings: 7pm, Wed mat: 1.30pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Cumbernauld Theatre
Tue 5/Wed 6 March 2024
Evenings: 7.30pm, Wed mat: 1pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Lemon Tree, Aberdeen
Thurs 14/Fri 15 March 2024
Evenings: 7.30pm; Fri mat: 10.30am.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Platform, Glasgow
Wed 27/Thurs 28 March 2024.
Wed: 7pm; Thurs: 1pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.


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