Theatre du Soleil had to wait nearly five decades for the Edinburgh International Festival to find a space huge enough to stage one of their epic productions. So worrying about Les Naufrages’ four-hour running time seems a little priggish - and ultimately unnecessary, the light-hearted drama based on Jules Verne’s posthumous novel flies by.
A scene from Les Naufrages du Fol Espoir (Aurores) at Lowland Hall, Royal Highland Centre, Ingliston, Edinburgh Photo: Charles-Henri Bradier
Lines between appearance and reality are blurred as soon as you reach the cavernous Lowland Hall near Edinburgh Airport. Only thin white lace separates the audience from the dressing rooms. Theatregoers can watch actors stick on fake moustaches and give each other pre-show pep talks… But how much of it is just for show?
The devised English and French play (which translates as The Castaways of the Fol Espoir - Sunrises, and is presented with surtitles), first performed in 2010, gives you a backstage look at the action on stage too. A group of friends and colleagues perturbed - and then devastated - by the approach of World War One are making a silent film about an ill-fated boat trip to Australia via the Cape of Horn.
The joy of Ariane Mnouchkine’s production lies in its massive scope and awe-inspiring attention to detail. The 33-strong cast dive around behind camerawoman Gabrielle decorating the scene with snow, smoke, wind, backdrops, spotlights, classical music and some wonderfully over-the-top acting - particularly from Eve Doe-Bruce as Mr Felix.
Does it justify the four-hour running time? Probably not. The politics-heavy second half (it’s all about humanity, guys) does begin to drag. However, by the time you reach the morale-boosting final scene you will still find yourself marvelling at how the French theatre company made the hours disappear.