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Horrifying exhibits provide a bleak education

Visual Art

SHOCKING: Installation Exhibit B is part exhibition and part performance.
SHOCKING: Installation Exhibit B is part exhibition and part performance.

Visual Art

Exhibit B

Playfair Library

Phil Miller

There is man holding a basket full of hands, and a prone actor portraying the sorrowful fate of Angelo Solomon, an African who was skinned, stuffed and put on show. There is a list of the 14 deaths in cases of forced deportation from the UK since 1991. And there is enough evidence of man's inhumanity to man to make the brightest Edinburgh day darken and freighted with guilt and dread.

Exhibit B is an extraordinary art installation, both performance and exhibition, by Brett Bailey that is a bleak education, a heavily shaded light of illumination, and a warning. The audience, who enter the beautiful library at the university Old College, in tranches, are asked not to speak or take photographs of the dioramas on show, which feature real people. Inspired by the "human zoos" of the 19th century, Bailey has orchestrated a bleak and on-the-nose series of living exhibits and examples of Europe's savagery in Africa in its years of Empire.

As you walk around - even if you could speak, you may not be able to - there is the sound of beautiful, wrenching African songs of mourning. You come to realise these come from four actors whose heads have been arranged as if in a colonial cabinet of horrors, based on the "work" of a certain Dr Fischer, who went on to play a role in Nazi Germany after being involved in various horrific actions in Africa. Amid the historical examples of brutality and exploitation, there are actors from modern-day Edinburgh, introduced as "Found Objects". Like all the actors involved, they look at you, and this viewer, found it hard to look back. The piteous gaze is returned.

The show is without doubt emotionally manipulative, and its effect could be a kind of numbness to the history on show: just so much cruelty, and so many deaths. Bailey risks shocking and dismaying the viewers into a horrified silence from which not much apart from pity and sorrow can be drawn. What saves the show from invoking mere despair is the testimony of the actors involved, presented in the final room. Some expressed hope, and a need to remind everyone of the past before the present and future can be discussed fully. A beautifully arranged and produced show, Exhibit B feels like compulsory viewing.

Runs to August 25

Music

Nicola Benedetti and Friends

Queen's Hall

Keith Bruce

The newest of Ms Benedetti's chums on the platform should get the first plaudits, because Scottish Chamber Orchestra violinist Susie Chen looked anything but the incomer (replacing an indisposed Anna-Liisa Bezrodny) for Shostakovich's mighty G Minor Piano Quintet. If anything, in fact, there was more of a "group" sound to the second-half work than there had been in the Brahms quartet before the interval, quite beyond the more obvious unison passages. It was in the superbly tight rhythmic playing - pre-echoing of the composer's Leningrad Symphony, which we shall hear at the EIF on Sunday - that the players were as integrated as the music absolutely requires. As ever with Shostakovich, it is far from clear what the composer actually means, but that is what makes him so fascinating - and the surprisingly fluffy finish such a delight.

It was probably more Brahms that the Benedetti fans came for. It is unarguable that his First Piano Quartet is concerned with his relationship with Clara Schumann, and I like the simplistic analogy that one is the piano and the other the strings, although I'm unsure which is which. Although the band leader and her partner, cellist Leonard Elschenbroich are on one side of that equation, why deny the audience the frisson of the romantic parallel? This musical story is full of anxious-sounding melodic figures before the passion of its finale ("Zingarese" being a sound-world that suits Benedetti well) and the communication between Elschenbroich and the left hand of pianist Alexei Grynuk is top class. At other times, though, the playing, including that of Benjamin Gilmore on viola, was a model of refinement, just rather too individually so.

Dance

Inala

Playhouse

MARY BRENNAN

WHEN Ladysmith Black Mambazo (LBM) start to sing, the rhythms that flow out of their a cappella music just make you want to dance - and indeed the group themselves are never static when they perform.

But Inala - given its world premiere in Edinburgh on Sunday - takes this irresistible impulse to a whole new level by bringing together trained dancers from classical and contemporary backgrounds with LBM.

The ambition doesn't really end there. Composer Ella Spira has worked with LBM and sound designer Adrian Rhodes to create a score that catches at both rural and city life in South Africa.

Meanwhile, choreographer Mark Baldwin has brought LBM physically into step with the dancers, in sequences where the sharing speaks of an integration that would have been unthinkable before the end of apartheid 20 years ago.

So do all these elements marry up in the "abundance of goodwill" that is one meaning of the word Inala?

There is, for sure, a tremendous feel-good energy that has the audience clapping between sections. But at times the absence of a narrative through-line undercuts the idea of this being a Zulu ballet.

What does emerge is how South Africa's traditional culture, and the diaspora from homelands to mining camps, informs LBM's music-making, and this comes to the fore when the singing evokes bird-like spirits or conjures up images of community life.

And there are welcome surprises: a pointe-work duet that floats on the lyrical LBM singing is exquisite.

When everyone is en masse, revelling in the high-kicking, shimmying and swaying that are signature LBM moves, it's an abundantly life-affirming show.

This review appeared in later editions of yesterday's Herald

Theatre

Ganesh Versus the Third Reich

Royal Lyceum

Sarah McConnell

Power is probably the most influential theme in Back to Back Theatre's Ganesh Versus the Third Reich. The play that was conceived by 11 artists, including the company director Bruce Gladwin, and performed at the Lyceum during the Edinburgh International Festival, shows the dictators of both Hitler and the onstage "Director" abusing their power.

Ganesh is the elephant-headed Hindu God known to be the remover of obstacles. The play features two narratives; one of Ganesh's travels from India to Nazi Germany in an aim to reclaim the swastika, and the second of the theatre company putting on the show and their struggles in the making of the play.

The cast consisted of five actors; the director and four actors who had mental or physical disabilities.

By showing us both sides of the story we are able to see that although we think things have moved on and gotten better, it isn't the case for all. Although the oppression Hitler put the Jews under is over, we still see the power and abusive way in which the director can be to his actors.

Back to Back Theatre showed us how easy it is to pass judgment on the people and times that have come before us and how we can clearly identify their weaknesses. With the actors using their own names in the second narrative, the show also identified the faults and flaws in our society today.

Sarah McConnell is a pupil at Holy Rood High School, Edinburgh, and this review was submitted as part of The Herald Young Critics project with the Edinburgh International Festival.

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