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EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: THE DESK, Summerhall

EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: THE DESK, Summerhall

EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Review: THE DESK, SummerhallReeta Honkakoski is a militant cult commander, demanding obedience and reverence with an icy look and the point of a finger. The cast scramble to meet her every demand - not out of fear, but out of a love for their esteemed leader and the crippling anxiety that goes alongside displeasing her.

The Desk is indeed a slick operation, precise movements with an ounce of playfulness at the start.

Then the indoctrination begins.

With each repetitive, monotonous activity, The Desk grinds its audience into submission - an initial look of fascination swiftly turns into a hypnotic trance as the ensemble repeat their routines ad infinitum. Tuuli Kyttälä's subtle marching soundscape seeps into the subconscious, a touch of discord in every phrase that matches a touch of dissent in every choreographed step.

Impassioned speeches are silently delivered with menace and fervour, maniacal and yet convincing. Movements continue like a production line churning out clone after clone of unquestioning believer. As the ensemble move around their own desks, they exhibit the ritualistic precision that comes from such structured practice expected in a cult.

The Desk itself sits in the centre - a tool for education but also for control, a place to learn and from which to preach. A methodical monotony continues, at times to the point in which the audience switches off. The concept is clear, the execution crisp and the desired effect felt. But it's difficult to maintain intrigue after the umpteenth iteration.

Where Honkakoski's direction comes into its own is less in the macro atmosphere on stage and more in the micro movements. The tiniest of mannerisms from her elicit the most grandiose of responses from the team - there's a synchronicity in this collective that is both conformist and showcases individuality. And as the individual performance start to shine through, so too does the hold over each of the soldiers start to wane. A subtle, intelligent shift of perspective.

But the end of The Desk starts to unintentionally unravel. There are a few indications that the leader is losing control before full-scale mutiny ensues. But it's not powerful enough; it lacks the climax expected when a power-hungry organisation inevitably implodes. Honkakoski seems to regain stature for a moment - a puppeteering sequence that is more confusing than convincing - until she begins to mechanically cease.

Perhaps that is the magic of The Desk - power dynamics are never as simple as they appear, and Honkakowski captures a myriad of these complexities with subtle, silent movement. A cult hit.

Image courtesy of Noomi Ljungdell

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