Edinburgh Festivals Magazine

Review: Interbeing at Assembly

Review: Interbeing at Assembly
3★★★

Interbeing is a physical theatre piece that charts a Swedish journalist’s visit to eastern Ukraine to document a group of soldiers. The subtitle ‘Stories From A Current War’ is well chosen. Since fighting broke out in March 2014 the conflict in Eastern Ukraine has claimed some 13,000 dead, 300,000 wounded, and two million people displaced. You’d be forgiven for not knowing that the current ceasefire came into force as recently as March, this year. 

It is produced and presented by London-based 2Theatre, a company specialising in physical theatre, clowning, and puppetry. The play was devised with 2Theatre’s artistic director the Swedish-Ukrainian Lana Bibi, who taught physical theatre workshops in Ukraine where the idea for Interbeing was born. 

Everyday life in Ukraine is shown well. Before the war – school children being taught about their country, graffiti artists, window cleaners. The breakdown of city life and outbreak of war. Protests. Confusion. Conscriptions. The bonds made between deployed troops. The boredom. Checkpoints. The troupe visualise these atmospheres ably. The props employed – long black sticks, balloons, a rug – are brought to life creatively to portray characters or set the scene. 

Many of the tableaus were derived from photographs. Images later projected on stage; of hooligans, off-duty soldiers playing the guitar, children holding up spent bullets to the camera. It’s most effective when unlikely reflections of the play emerge in these images from the front. 

There were a few weaknesses. Some later images of landscapes and stars were corny and undermined the powerful sense of documentary created. The music was patchy with panpipes much overused. The battle scenes were left wanting; flailing limbs and mock-spasms that felt more playground than battlefield. The show was weakest when most abstract – a blurb quote from Paddy Ashdown on ‘interconnectivity’ is particularly bizarre.

Overall, this is a creative and enthusiastic production with an important story to tell. Questionable moments are eclipsed by the power and truth portrayed when Interbeing adapts its original harrowing research.