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Review: Deciphering, at New Diorama Theatre

Brilliant meditation on early human creativity and communi­cation is a stunning piece of theatre

23 September, 2021 — By Lucy Popescu

Sarita Gabony in Deciphering. Photo Alex Brenner

ON the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, caves containing stencilled hands, geometric symbols and art are believed to be over 40,000 years old, making them the oldest examples of human storytelling in the world.

Curious Directive’s collaboration with Indonesian artist collective Bombo (video­grapher Rais Rice and sound artist Reza Enem) has drawn on this discovery to produce a stunning piece of theatre.

We follow Elise, an archaeologist, played by three different actors, through pivotal moments in her life. Her curiosity and love of learning is first awakened as an eight-year-old child (Asha Sylvestre) in Indonesia. She is taught by Kenny (Lewis Mackinnon) a lively and inspiring teacher from Scotland. The dynamics created by the pair in these opening scenes are extraordinary and Sylvestre’s wonder is utterly believable.

In her twenties, Elise (Sarita Gabony) is studying in France. She is discouraged from pursuing her chosen academic path because of the Euro-centric approach to paleoarchaeology which her research is challenging.

Later, in her forties, Elise (Stephanie Street) is called up by her former professor (Amanda Hadingue) who persuades her to accompany her to visit the Indonesian caves. There they attempt to decipher the symbols on the walls – representing the first attempts at writing – before flooding (caused by climate change) destroys them forever.

Jack Lowe and Zoe Hurwitz’s staging is superb. We wear headphones throughout which fully immerse us in the action. Above the stage is scaffolding from which the characters swing as they drop into Elise’s classroom, haunting her past. Below the stage are the dark caves with their secrets.

A brilliant meditation on early human creativity and communi­cation, Deciphering educates and entertains in equal measure. It’s also about the importance of re­maining open to new discover­ies in the world and in ourselves; a powerful reminder that curiosity inspires learning. Don’t miss.

Until October 2
newdiorama.com

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