Thursday, February 29

Tess – Traverse Theatre

Part of Edinburgh’s Manipulate Festival 2024, Tess is an ambitious retelling of Hardy’s famous tale, Tess Of The D’Urbervilles, through a feminist lens by the acclaimed UK circus theatre company Ockham Razor.

The original tale was set in Victorian England, but there are plenty of moral and ethical lessons which translate very easily into today’s Britain. The story of a naïve young girl, forced into low paid work by poverty, and then abused and violated by a rich arrogant seducer, seems all too familiar. The fact that the abuse becomes her almost unbearable cross to bear and yet means little or nothing to him also speaks volumes.

In this production there are two Tesses, actor Macadie Amoroso who speaks the tale and Lila Naruse who physically enacts it. They are joined on stage by five other very able bodies who skip, dance, flip and climb, build and deconstruct and at times combine into one fabulous organism of movement.

Building the narrative around very beautiful choreography, and some impressive displays of circus skills, strength and flexibility, it seems entirely appropriate that the other cornerstone of this production is the timeless building material, wood. A material that spans the centuries and creates a natural bridge to the time of Tess, the spring and resilience of the material is also a natural metaphor for the titular character.

Photo: Kie Cumming

Within the first ten minutes when Tess’s drunken father does an impromptu back flip with the aid of the spring qualities of two crossed planks, the audience gasps, it’s our first real glimpse of what’s to come. Or when Tess makes her way through a complex landscape, balancing on the thin edge of a plank, climbing up a steep incline or sliding gleefully down the other side, or being bounced onto someone’s shoulders; it’s all very cleverly conceived.

At times perhaps a little too clever and complex for its own good, there are certainly times when the choreography gets ahead of itself, is overindulgent and not in tune with the narrative. At other times though it is entirely successful, particularly so in a scene where three milkmaids are mooning over the parson’s son, coveted by every girl in the village, like cats in heat crawling around over and through the vertical timber set, or swooning in the heat of the bucolic green and pleasant land of middle England.

The atmosphere of hazy, slow, rustic days is conjured up beautifully, with Holly Khan’s score summoning a feeling of subdued, mournful resignation, but with moments of beauty and absolute joy thrown in. Likewise, Daniel Denton’s projections are elemental, rocks and clouds and water, which create a very appropriate timeless setting; things move slowly here, incrementally, our petty actions are irrelevant in the bigger scheme of things.

Whilst the first act meanders like a lazy river, building the narrative, the second fairly whizzes along, albeit still in the same dreamlike state, towards its ultimate dramatic conclusion.

Reviewer: Greg Holstead

Reviewed: 8th February 2024

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.