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Secret Life of Humans review at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh – ‘boldly staged and utterly absorbing’

Secret Life of Humans at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh. Photo: David Monteith Hodge Secret Life of Humans at Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh. Photo: David Monteith Hodge

Why are we afraid of the dark? Why do we get lonely? Why do we wage wars?

Inspired by the work of Israeli historian Yuval Harari, David Byrne’s quietly stunning Secret Life of Humans reaches for answers with kaleidoscopic elegance.

Intricately combining philosophy, anthropology and social history, it pitches a contemporary story (an eventful Tinder date) against an older one (the troubled career of TV academic Jacob ‘Bruno’ Brunowski), against the oldest story of all (humanity’s journey from the treetops to the atomic bomb).

Seamlessly flitting between these interwoven strands, examining our tiniest ticks and most terrible traits, it returns again and again to the penetrating question: are we making progress, or are we hard-wired to screw things up?

New Diorama’s staging – a collaborative effort of co-directors, devisers, and dramaturgs – unfolds with metronomic precision, shifting from the present to the past with sly stage magic. Cast members appear from nowhere and walk across walls. Rotating bookcases neatly whisk the action between eras. Large-scale projections and a haunting soundscape symphonically fuse.

This is bold, beautiful, utterly absorbing theatre, asking deafening questions about society, and finding the thrilling drama inherent in the human story. It takes your breath away.

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A boldly staged and utterly absorbing hour of layered, intelligent, educational theatre from New Diorama