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Nocturnes review at Zoo, Edinburgh – ‘ambitious but underwhelming’

Imitating the Dog's Nocturnes Imitating the Dog's Nocturnes

Imitating the Dog makes work that explores the relationship between live performance and film.

Nocturnes is intended as a homage to 1950s spy stories. Above the stage a black and white film of two characters hiding out in post-war Berlin is projected, while the same actors, dressed in modern clothes, perform the characters’ dialogue below.

A third figure, played by Movern Macbeth, sits at a table between them. She speaks the lines of the supporting characters wile also exerting a vaguely sinister force over proceedings.

The relationship between the live and filmed becomes increasingly disrupted. The images flicker, bend and bleed – and eventually the actors start to cross the line into the filmed world where they meet their cinematic selves.

While the ambition of the piece is considerable, it’s let down by its execution. The plot of the film is foggy, and it’s hard to gauge what’s at stake. The footage itself is part of the problem. It’s not nearly rich or sharp enough, visually or otherwise, to work as pastiche; the dialogue is jarring and the characterisation flat. We’re not in Le Carre land – we’re not even close.

The integration of film and live performance can be thrilling in the right hands. But Andrew Quick and Pete Brooks’ production never satisfactorily bridges the gap between the two. For all its layers and formal playfulness and despite being stuffed with gun-wielding double-agents and ominous KGB officers, Nocturnes is a strangely lifeless piece, devoid of dramatic tension.

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Ambitious but underwhelming fusion of film and live performance