By Isabella Fraser
Letters Home is a sweeping, visceral site-specific promenade theatre experience. Grid Iron, the award-winning Edinburgh based theatre company which specializes in site specific work has created, in conjunction with the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a piece that uses four short stories written from the perspective of ‘home’ by different writers who all come from Commonwealth countries, but have lived away from their homes for most of their careers. These texts have then been worked as pieces of theatre in four distinct ways.
In order to experience the four sections separately, all audience members are allocated a group to be part of. We are led speedily around our destinations by our guides (all are close to the EIBF base of St Charlotte Square) but each theatre piece is contrasting in style and presentation. It is fascinating in itself to see inside some of these interesting and beautiful buildings, let alone be immersed in the artistic creation found inside.
War Letters by Kamila Shamsie looks at the First World War and is a filmic visual and aural experience. There is much that cannot be said about this section – and with all of the sections – as it would spoil the surprise; what can be said is that it focuses on the senses and family/friend loyalties. Director Alice Nelson has created a harmonious juxtaposition within this section that makes you aware what is all around; what you can focus on and what home means to those fighting for it.
Eve and Cain by Christos Tsiolkas looks at the culture of the past where traditional letters were not sent, but slaves tasked with the burden of passing on messages verbally or on their skin. Director and adaptor Ben Harrison has created a piece that, while outwardly the most theatrical, is fascinating in its experience: the audience is immersed in the time and place where mother and son fiercely converse.
England in a Pink Blouse by Kei Miller seems the most modern setting – an e-mail conversation between two people that explains a life-changing event. Imaginatively directed by Michael John McCarthy, this is another aural and visual piece that challenges the audience to focus and listen to the unfolding story.
The final of the four written pieces, Details by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, returns to the more traditional theatrical style, looking at love with complications. This has lovely stylized moments and visual imagery created by movement director Vicki Manderson and director Joe Douglas.
Tying together the style of ‘home’, the promenade groups are all brought together to meet the actors as they revert to real life, go to their ‘home’.
Taking the written word and creating it into immersive theatre is not easy. However, these four directors have managed to produce work that works together in sync; each is seen separately but together they make a whole experience, just as it does when you travel to different places around the world, but eventually find the stability or sameness of home.
Letters Home runs until 25 August (not 19) at Edinburgh International Book Festival at 18.15. Running time is 2 hours 30 mins.