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A beautiful, confusing fantasy world from site-specific gurus Grid Iron
The last show I saw by Edinburgh immersive theatre legends Grid Iron was ‘Leaving Planet Earth’, possibly the most ambitious piece of site-specific theatre ever attempted: it tried to pass the Edinburgh International Climbing Centre off as an entire alien planet. Perhaps inevitably it didn’t entirely work, and I can’t help but feel that on some level the compact ‘Light Boxes’ is a reaction to it, though it shares a surprising amount of its DNA.
The show is director Finn den Hertog’s adaptation of a 2010 book by Shane Jones, an Angela Carter-esque postmodern fairytale about a town that falls under the spell of February, a month that refuses to let it go, plunging it into years of brutal winter, in which axe-wielding priests destroy anything capable of flight, and children start to vanish. The show follows the family of balloon maker Thaddeus (Keith Macpheron) who lead the resistance against February, but it’s all a lot less high fantasy than that might sound, full of folksy rearrangement of songs by the likes of Tom Waits and Low, and surreal humour like the inept, guitar-toting resistance movement called The Solution.
It’s also one of the best smelling shows I’ve ever been to: we’re sat amongst fragrant plants, on a wood chip floor, under a ceiling covered in silver balloons - set designer Karen Tennent has done a remarkable job. The first half slips by like a beautiful, strange dream, as Thaddeus’s secret defiance of the ban on flying things leads to February taking his daughter Bianca, and he becomes the leader of the motley resistance. But as it wears on it becomes stuffed with characters and plot points – the price of compacting an entire fantasy novel in an hour – and increasingly difficult to follow, until it ends with what I think was the mother of all cop outs, though I’m not clear enough on exactly what happened to say for absolute sure. As with ‘Leaving Planet Earth’, Grid Iron have created an impressive world, but again they don’t seem to entirely be its masters.