Edinburgh Festival: Sven Werner’s Tales of Magical Realism (4 stars)

This is an experience – “show” doesn’t really sum it up – that will leave you feeling dazed and dizzy afterwards, flailing around the Summerhall courtyard wondering what exactly just happened. You put on headsets and watch accompanying visuals through peepshow boxes – miniature model scenes which, through clever use of light, sound and mechanical movements, create the feel of noir-esque cinema. Or at least, the ones I see do; other journeys might be different.

It’s pretty all consuming. Without giving too much away, you move from station to station and finally end up on one of three elaborate bicycling machines, reunited with other audience members, pedalling your way towards the light. It’s like a cross between being in the gym and having an end-of-life, out-of-body experience. Goodness knows where everyone else has been the rest of the time. You lose track of them in what is very much a personal performance – a relationship between you and a disconcertingly calm, velvety voice in your ear.

I’m not sure if I initially end up in a different room to everyone else because I need a different bike. Perhaps I’m insufficiently tall for the spectacular looking tandem someone else ends up on. Or maybe everyone is taken aside like this and we’re actually all going through the same thing but at different times. Maybe that’s the point? Either way it’s a simultaneously invigorating and disquieting ride, one full of repetitive movement – something I suspect is largely responsible for the feeling of disorientation at the end. Snow falling at a station, trees passing by a train window, the wheels on bikes turning (“keep peddling at a steady pace” repeats the voice) – all of this sends you into a trance.

“My aim as an artist is to introduce poetic worlds to people, with the intention of bringing them closer to the poetry within their own lives,” says creator and director Sven Werner. As you stumble back into reality outside, it certainly feels different to the place you left.

Written for The Scotsman

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