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Erewhon review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘an intriguing concept’

Erewhon at Summerhall. Photo: Erik Norder Erewhon at Summerhall. Photo: Erik Norder

The results of a playwright exchange between Scotland and New Zealand, Erewhon is Arthur Meek’s take on Samuel Butler’s 19th century Utopian novel. Based on Butler’s experiences in New Zealand, the book was a satirical critique of Empire. It took the form of a narrative of discovery, a man documenting the strange land in which he finds himself.

Meek, with the aid of an antique Victorian magic lantern, through which he feeds a selection of slides by artists from New Zealand, the UK and the US, provides an alternative version of the text. He describes it as a corrective. The society he describes is one in which women are dominant, technology has become obsolete and chaos is worshipped. The iPhone has become a relic. People are no longer enslaved by their devices.

Meek filters his storytelling through a contemporary lens of white male privilege and post-colonialism.

It’s an intriguing concept and Meek delivers it in an engaging fashion. The lantern in itself is a fascinating device and there’s pleasure in watching him operate it. But the different elements of Nicholas Bone and Geoff Pinfield’s production – the magic lantern backdrops, Eva Prowse’s live music and Meek’s storytelling – don’t really gel together and the nature of the material and the form of the piece, part lecture, part slide show, make for a relatively static experience.

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Intriguing update of Samuel Butler’s Utopian novel with magic lantern slides