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international Festival: Review

I AM

strength: slow-motion physicality of Lemi Ponifasio's I AM incorporates traditional Maori movements, performed to a thundering score featuring rhythmic incantations and songs of longing.
strength: slow-motion physicality of Lemi Ponifasio's I AM incorporates traditional Maori movements, performed to a thundering score featuring rhythmic incantations and songs of longing.

I AM

Edinburgh Playhouse

Mary Brennan

The darkness on stage feels like no-man's land, and as for the soldier in his unknown uniform - he's fighting for us, standing his ground as God Save The Queen booms out. In 1914, the whole theatre would have risen to its feet within a bar. Now, no-one stirs. For good or ill, the things we now respect have changed. Perhaps the darkness that pervades I AM - as much a darkness of the soul, as of director Lemi Ponifasio's inky lighting - hints that our modern society is like a no-man's-land where we stand lost, waiting for orders.

Here, there are orders, barked out in mono-syllables by a commander whose head is craned back, glance fixed upwards, impervious to the line of bodies that move slowly, on an unseen conveyor belt into the wings - a symbolic oblivion. Lines of bodies, always slow-moving, punctuate the 100 minutes or so of performance. Black-clad, they could be cannon-fodder, ceremonial acolytes, silent protestors, perhaps a solemn witness to the thousands from Ponifasio's native Samoa and New Zealand who died in the First World War. No-one carries a placard. Even the words that spill across the huge slab that crowds the stage into a shelf are - like the speech from Heiner Muller's Hamlet-Machine - engulfed by the blitzing, thrumming soundscore that thunders in our ears. There are prolonged howls of despair, rhythmic Maori incantations and songs full of longings - for those departed, for peace - where the prevailing slow-motion physicality comes to life in traditional Maori movements. And everywhere, the imagery is haunted by the artwork of Colin McCahon, and his tormented quest for redemption. Again, Ponifasio and his Mau company leave audiences questioning not just the imagery on-stage, but themselves.

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