Ruhe at the Edinburgh International Festival

Muziektheater Transparant and the Collegium Vocale Gent

The Hub, Edinburgh, 30 August 20082.5 stars

Ruhe at the Edinburgh FestivalRuhe, presented by Muziektheater Transparant, makes us feel uncomfortable.

As two Dutch citizens recount their lives as members of the SS during the Second World War, we are exposed to the notion that these volunteers were not single-minded fascists but were, in fact, ordinary citizens.

Designed to engage the audience as participants in the developments on the stage, the work began whilst the audience were being seated. As the twelve singers of the Collegium Vocale Gent performed the first of ten songs by Schubert, they stood on chairs in two informal circles within the arena of the audience. The actors also sat within this set (comprising of over 200 chairs, some more stable than others), in plain clothes, observing the gestures of each other, as if this was also new to them.

Ruhe at the Edinburgh FestivalI was sandwiched within the two circles of singers, between a resonant bass and a tenor, which presented an interesting and rather special way to experience a consort of male singers. The sprinkling of harmonies around the audience provided a refreshing break from the traditional block setting of choirs and the a cappella Collegium Vocale Gent sang beautifully and poignantly. Occasional wavering of intonation at the ends of phrases did not detract from the well-paced tempos, magical ensemble and rich doubling of parts whose vocal range spanned from bass to countertenor.

Unlike the use of music in many theatre productions (for relaxing or for relief between scenes), the Schubert songs here were very much a part of the performance. Its beauty was designed to contrast with the difficult and frank monologues, but I felt rather, these two art forms were not integrated and remained separate entities throughout the performance: at most they provided a moment for reflection. Only at the close of the work in the final piece by contemporary composer Anneliese Van Parys - atonal harmonies on a single line of text 'Rest, greatest blessing, as a grave reposes among flowers' - did I feel a definite connection between the monologues and the music.

Of the two actors, Carly Wijs' performance was the most convincing; she took us back to 1934, describing her involvement as a nurse who treated war-injured amputees. Her sympathetic account revealed how an ordinary citizen with a mixed political and religious background became complicit in war. In contrast, Dirk Roofhooft's character was restless and impatient. He played a farmer who reluctantly declared enjoying the camaraderie of war. Although a lively and candid account, the defensive part of his character created an unwanted and hostile ambience.

This was certainly an original show and a successful performance, but, I'm afraid, it was not outstanding.

By Mary Robb

Preview of the 2008 Edinburgh International Festival:

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Previous reviews of the Edinburgh International Festival :

Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray (2008)
Mischa Maisky (2008)
Scottish Opera performs Smetana's The Two Widows (2008)
Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny (2008)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Ades (2007)
San Francisco Symphony/Tilson Thomas (2007)
Optical Identity (T'ang Quartet) (2007)
A Celebration of Poulenc (2007)