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The Afflicted review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘unsettling deconstruction of true crime’

The cast of The Afflicted at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Michaela Bodlovic The cast of The Afflicted at Summerhall, Edinburgh. Photo: Michaela Bodlovic
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It seems like everyone’s a bit sick of true crime, including this true crime show. On the surface, it’s about the semi-true story of 24 US high-school girls who, in 2012, developed an inexplicable twitching disorder.

But the show by new Scottish company Groupwork uses unsettling choreography, disturbing sound design and disrupted video to make a bigger point about true crime and its own victims.

Jake Jeppson’s script captures exactly the tone of things such as Serial, an assured narrator determined to get to the bottom of a juicy little mystery. Four performers share the narrative voice. But on top of the script are layers of sound, video and movement.

They reference works of fiction that are obsessed with images of corrupted teenage girls, from the high-school trauma of Carrie to Twin Peaks-style music of dawdling repetitive jazz.

Through those references, The Afflicted shows how true crime trades in the same impulses that attract us to horror films or crime dramas. Fact and fiction blur here, just as depictions of fact and fiction begin to elide in the real world.

Lewis den Hertog provides distorted sound and sophisticated video design, including news footage, photographs that shrivel and scar, and live camera work. Although impressive, some of it adds little to an already strong show.

Then there’s eerie, full-bodied dance by Vicki Manderson with these four performers – young women – decidedly taking up as much space as they can.

All those TV dramas that start with a young woman’s corpse, those horror films that revel in the psychological unravelling of young women’s minds, they have an impact, the shows says. They bleed into reality.

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Video, sound and eerie choreography combine in this clever and unsettling deconstruction of true crime from Groupwork