Review by Carly Fisher
We are somewhere in Europe, though the town could be anywhere. We know that it is now, but we know that themes have been relevant for decades. Any of us could be one of these two characters - it’s really all about circumstance. And so, with all of this set, as an audience, we walk into Summerhall’s Roundabout theatre in the round space and take a seat in a tent that feels made for circus performances, but instead offers an extraordinarily powerful intimacy for Eve Leigh’s striking new play, Salty Irina.
When you read a description about a show that involves characters fighting Nazis, terrifyingly, you don’t expect it will be set today. Expecting a show based in the 1940s, the hard hitting impact of realising that this is a show about the rise of extremism again today and the fears associated with it, can not be understated. To think of our times now being compared with the same fear and provoked discrimination as the 1930s is painfully unsettling. It is also unquestionably necessary work that is delivered with a strong voice by Leigh and with extremely powerful performances.
Led by two protagonists, Anna and Eireni, the show follows two people who, in the wake of consistent local violence need desperately to feel as though they are making a change. Falling in love almost instantly, the two characters battle the fact that they are not fitting in with ‘mainstream society’ and its expectations - not because of race, not because of gender presentation, not because of whom they love. When these two young characters decide to risk it all to take a stand and learn more about the extremist right by going ‘undercover’ to a festival that they are hosting, the danger is real and the tension is palpable.
This show may not appeal to everyone because it is less conventional in its writing and construction. This departure from ‘convention’ had me hooked from the start and I personally think that this is one of the strongest pieces of theatre I saw at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Creatively directed, sure of its own voice through the writing and expertly performed by the cast of three, there is little I could fault in this production.
Though all elements are strong, it is the performances by Hannah Van Westhuysen, Yasmin Özdemir and Francesca Knight that really make this play shine. Committed, intricate, realistic and fierce in talent, all three are names to watch!
The limited use of props and clever representation of elements like blood, etc prove Debbie Hannan’s skill and level of experience as a Director. In choosing this understated approach, Hannan has achieved max impact and cleverly, let the writing and stars shine.
This is a haunting piece of theatre - one that feels horribly close to home and heinously uncomfortable because of its timeliness. Because we have all seen the news. Because we all know of communities profiled and targeted accordingly by any range of extremists. Because we can all see that if change is not urgently made, they could win.
Undoubtedly this will transfer from the fringe to a longer season and life beyond this tent. I urge you to see it when it does.