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UNDER ICE (dir. Arturas Areima) at Fringe Festival (4 stars review)

Lithuanian director Arturas Areima mounts an adaptation of Falk Richter’s play of the same name, Under Ice. If these names ring obscure, fear not: know that Areima is a brilliant director with a spirited cast of performers and Richter’s words manage to make an impact.

Loud and proud with genuine contempt, Under Ice attracts those of a certain mettle. It’s theatre that has to be braved rather than sat through. So buckle up and enjoy the sound and fury of an uncomfortable hour.

Rokas Petrauskas plays a corporate man who lives a life of hate. It’s not so much that his life is sapped of meaning, but rather that it has a singular, angry one: to serve capitalism. He’s trapped in a quotidian bubble of work, only vaguely able to spot a life above the one he lives. Trapped under ice, he’s frozen and aching, slowly realising that he’s been reared since childhood for this automatic lifestyle. Being a consultant, he must also suffer the indignity of being consulted on employee assessments. Dovydas Stončius and Tomas Rinkūnas begin as trenchant assessors, demeaning Petrauskas’ man at every turn; however, they soon morph into others, particularly Stončius, who turns from consultant executive to dictator in the course of one fiery speech.

It’s a thumping polemic on the market, especially on the commodification of culture and the ease by which the “pure knowledge” of economics can slide into the “pure knowledge” of fascism. It works outstandingly well, too, delivering socialist sentiment by espresso shots rather than by mild pour-over. Areima mixes loud with louder and, while the pace of it isn’t perfect, when the message seeps through it comes in a flood of wrath; the likes of it are not seen elsewhere in the Fringe.

Sometimes, it’s not even the volume that makes it, but the staging. For almost the entire show, Petrauskas is sat in a armchair, backed into it by a sea of microphones; this mirrors how his life is recorded and scrutinised, hindering his progression to a better life. Even the floor being filled with bottles has a purpose, giving a palpable crunch when anyone walks along it, proving redolent of the Great Pacific garbage patch, an intractable monument to market waste in the Maldives. Also, look out for the balletic video display by Kornelijus Jaroševičius, which contributes to the heady split focus.

Not all of it scores, though that is the line the show’s chosen to cross in its bellicose way. Under Ice is as form-breaking as a play can get without messing itself up. With Areima, Richter, Petrauskas, Stončius and Rinkūnas, it’s an 18-wheeler of a performance firing on most of its cylinders.

*****

Oliver Simmonds, broadwaybaby.com, 17th August 2016