Tuesday, May 28

Simple Machines – Fruitmarket, Edinburgh

I am a little bit afraid of robots. I was concerned that the automatons in this production would be sinister denizens of the Uncanny Valley.  However, my expectations were turned on their head.

Here, choreographer Ugo Dehaes has created a cynical alter ego. At least, I hope this is an alter ego: Dehaes’s performance is very convincing. Apparently, this soft-spoken character got into the arts with the intention of getting rich. When unlimited wealth and power fail to materialise, he looks to mega-corporations for inspiration, and decides to replace his workforce – the dancers – with robots. However, plan B doesn’t work out as he expected either.

The philosopher Rene Descartes regarded non-human animals as “mere machines”, a view with profound ethical consequences. But perhaps we have underestimated the machines all along.

The robots develop from fleshy cocoons which Dehaes compares to salami. They gradually shed their exterior and take their adult forms. One looks like a dissected human ribcage, and another looks a bit like a bonsai tree. They move in all sorts of ways: there is a graceful “dance of love”, crab-like movements and inevitably, a take on Swan Lake, albeit without the original music. We are encouraged to touch and interact with the robots, and even though some of them are repulsive to look at, it is easy to feel compassion for them: they are sympathetic characters, in contrast to their creator.

There were a couple of kids in the audience and Dehaes ensures that they are fully included, asking them questions and explaining words that they do not understand. Dehaes also creates performances specifically for children.

I have never seen anything like this before. Dehaes combines robotics, dance, satire and philosophy and has created a truly unsettling piece of theatre. Perhaps the real monsters are human beings, after all.

Reviewer: Wendy McEwan

Reviewed: 4th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.
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