(Can This Be) Home

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

It could be the warm-up to a ceilidh at the start of Kolbrun Bjort Sigfúsdóttir and Tom Oakes’ poetic meditation on what it means to build a home in the place you love, only to have the foundations of that home ripped from under you. And yes, even as the recorded accordion music plays, we’re very much talking Brexit here, as Iceland-born Sigfúsdóttir and English emigre Oakes relate in the quietest of terms how things have changed over the last three years.

Sigfusdottir does this through a series of brief monologues spoken directly to the audience. Inbetween, Oakes plays a series of traditional and original tunes picked up on his travels on bouzouki and wooden flute. Finland, Morocco and beyond are all in the mix. While Oakes plays, Sigfúsdóttir kneels on the floor, building little miniature houses out of sand and clay, before breaking them down into nothing once more, only to keep on building it into something ever stronger.

The experience may be personal, but the resonance right now is obviously much bigger, and the creative fortress Sigfúsdóttir and Oakes have built around them is a vital means of survival. It also gives the pair the strength to pool resources in a way that empowers them to both show off their talents as well as offloading their worst fears. As she talks with her hands initially clasping and unclasping in restless contemplation, Sigfúsdóttir’s quiet defiance builds into frustrated rage, until the hands come down to take on the world. This is evoked with similarly bittersweet urgency by Oakes, only without words.

In this sense, the performers lay bare an international alliance which crosses borders in a way which may or may not become increasingly difficult in the very near future. For the time being, this intimate and heartfelt sharing of private fears is an urgent real life insight into the everyday ramifications of the business of bad government, which nevertheless evolves into a fragile but essential compendium of life-affirming joy.