Palmyra review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘weird, wonderful and strangely stressful’
Stop: it’s hammer time. In Palmyra, Fellswoop Theatre’s follow-up to 2016’s successful Eurohouse, an audience member is entrusted with a mean-looking mallet. Both performers – the softly-spoken Bertrand Lesca and the terse Nasi Voutsas – have used it to threaten each other. The audience has to decide who they trust more.
It’s just one device in the duo’s thrillingly eclectic new show that puts the audience on the edge of their seat. There are more. Nasi has smashed Bertrand’s plate, so Bertrand smashes Nasi’s. A strangely beautiful dance on rolling pallets descends into a fight. A lot of crockery gets swept about.
It’s weird, but it’s fascinating. And funny, embracing an off-beat, absurdist way that, paradoxically, cranks up the tension instead of releasing it. What’s it all about? Who knows? If it weren’t for the title, you could just mistake it for a meaningless collection of avant-garde theatre games.
But it’s called Palmyra – the ancient Syrian city mutilated by Isis – and so what could have just been two contemporary clowns having experimental fun becomes something else. An exploration of responsibility – or conflict resolution, maybe? Of cyclical violence? Or, perhaps, just of what happens when you give the audience a hammer, and ask them to choose?