Illustration by Caroline Coates.
It’s hard to know how to talk about Blood and Roses. Before witnessing it, I had been referring to it as an ‘audio play’ but I now realise what an understatement that was, as what I witnessed last Saturday afternoon was genre-defying, much more than what the former description suggests. Yes, there is an audio component, consisting of dialogue and a soundtrack by composer and director Alex Attwood. It manifests itself through the MP3 player and headphones given to each audience member.
All photography by Caitlin Sinclair.
There are also visual elements, as while listening, the audience strolls through Edinburgh’s streets and takes in architecture, shop fronts, street art, pubs, gardens and a host of unique sites designed by visual artist Jen Robson. Then, a tangible quality becomes noticeable—we are offered the opportunity to wander through rooms, consult maps and diagrams, and to take in the dreamy atmosphere. It’s surprising, exhilarating, and not like any theatre I’ve seen, heard or felt before.
Illustration by Carne Griffiths.
The play originated as a wedding gift, written by Poorboy’s Artistic Director Sandy Thomson for one of the company’s Artistic Associates, Brian Ferguson. Marriage is at the story’s heart, and in real life the last of the performances coincidentally takes place on Ferguson’s wedding day.
In the present day, 22-year-old Scotswoman Alexandra has announced her engagement to Anatoly, a Russian man she recently met while studying in Moscow. Interwoven with her emotionally charged story are her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother’s narratives, ranging as far back as 1662. We also hear from the women in Anatoly’s family, struggling to survive around the time of the Siege of Leningrad. A final thread is the haunting Baba Yaga fairytale, relating to Alexandra’s Slavic folktale studies.
The audio alone makes for compelling storytelling, touching on women’s experiences, marriage and the sacrifices made for family. Dialogue is interspersed with urban sounds, singing, a heartbeat, and a recurring Celtic fiddle tune. Towards the play’s end, we learn about how difficult Alexandra’s birth was for her mother, and I see audience members’ eyes well up. There’s no denying the lump in our throats.
Illustration by Claire Kearns.
Adding to the complexity of this audio experience is the fact that all the while, we are soaking up the atmosphere of a sunny weekend afternoon. It’s interesting to observe the public’s reaction to our headphoned group’s presence. Despite it being Festival-time, heads still swivel. At one stage we are seated in a pub when our table is approached by a gentleman who mouths, ‘what are you doing?!’ We shrug and smile, but we aren’t about to spoil the secret.
Each site we stop at has a special significance to the story, most incredible for me is a back garden decorated with hanging family photos, antique bedroom furniture and Baba Yaga dolls created from the unlikely sources. It’s a delight to wander through, peeking past branches and leaves to glimpse at all manner of crafted treasures.
Blood and Roses by Gareth A Hopkins.
The variedness of the play is appealing, however at times it is also overwhelming. On a couple of occasions I missed the guide’s motioned signals to move on because I was busy examining the artwork, and the displays at some sites were so detailed that I couldn’t concentrate on what I was hearing. Despite these problems with pace and concentration, this is largely a clever and engrossing production, worth watching, listening and talking about.
Blood and Roses opens today as part of the Edinburgh Fringe, full details in our listing.
- Grace Jones, William’s Blood
- Sage Francis: New and Improved with Even Less to Lose
- The Royal Wedding in Illustrations: Kate, Wills and the rest of the guests
- Billbored highlights
- This week’s Art listings