Are we not drawn onward to new erA by Ontroerend Goed – Zoo Southside, Edinburgh
Belgian company Ontroerend Goed are seasoned experimenters, but even for them ‘Are we not drawn onward…’ is an extraordinary, ground-breaking show. The title is a palindrome, and the key to the structure of a performance that hinges in its centre. The first half hour is mysterious and oblique. The history of humanity passes before us, from the garden of Eden to a stage choked with plastic and fumes – our apparently unstoppable rush to environmental oblivion. The actors move strangely and speak an incomprehensible language. Then the curtain drops, a woman steps to the front of the stage, and suddenly we can understand her words. The play switches direction, and a film of the action we have just seen is projected on to a screen in reverse. Everything is now comprehensible and the reversed actions make sense.
Speaking and acting backwards is a stunning technical achievement, but Are we not drawn onward… is not a showcase for its performers. OG is an ensemble, and the low key performances are in service of the whole. Watching the impossible – reversing the mistakes we have made, magicking them away – is a moving, disturbing experience. Reversing everything creates a world of activism where people work together to make change. However, as the play returns to its start the cast absent themselves from the stage one-by-one, and the play suggests that the only sustainable future is one without people.