Dance review: Awake
Edinburgh Fringe Scotsman review: Awake at C Venues (Venue 34), reviewed by Matt Trueman
Feminism might have hogged the limelight at this year’s Fringe, but beneath the surface, there has been a rich seam of shows about masculinity. Awake, one of Aurora Nova’s Edinburgh imports, prods at the subject in a remarkable manner.
Max is an expectant dad, a medical scientist, a fitness freak and a disarmingly handsome piece of eye-candy. He has that masculine air of invulnerability and a sense of being active in the world. He has always lived in the future tense, moving forwards and achieving as he goes.
He has also got pancreatic cancer, inoperable pancreatic cancer in fact, though no-one knows about that. Pride has stopped him from telling even his pregnant wife. And he is facing up to his impending death – his future tense cut short – alone. Disease, he tells us, “isn’t a secret, it’s a locked room”. It has its own logic, unintelligible to those free of it.
Awake sets up a surprise party, with all of Max’s friends dressed as circus acts. His wife is the fortune-teller; his best mate, the lion tamer. And while they want to party, Max slinks off to the bathroom.
Using a mix of physical theatre, choral singing and aerial work, Swedish company The Awake Project give a sense of Max’s internal monologue. While those around him play, he thinks only of death, thrashing around on a noose above. When conversations bubble around him, he starts to see angels. There is a dizzying, headswimming quality as Max seems to dissociate from his surroundings and into his own head.
It’s not the neatest of shows, not the most impressive of circuses, but it is superbly expressive and its portrait of cancer is as admirably unsentimental as they come. The kicker is its refusal to give the game away too quickly.
But it is the thinking, the quiet, methodical look at the male psyche, that really works here: the way Max contemplates suicide to retain active control, the way his ambitions trip into legacy, his sense of messianic self-sacrifice and his dogged incapability of thinking of others. Big ideas, beautifully wrapped.
Originally published in The Scotsman