Thu 8th – Sat 17th August 2013


Natasha Hyman

at 21:53 on 13th Aug 2013



The Wardrobe Ensemble return to the Fringe with an original and fresh exploration of the stories of the trapped Chilean miners in 2010. They open their show by talking to individual audience members about their responses to the news story, they then share their thoughts with us, and, addressing their technician - begin the show. This interactive approach could have made for an irritating classroom-esque set-up, however, these actors are so engaging and humble, that we are instantly tied into the story, which is made fresh and relevant.

The ensemble claim is to make theatre that "explores, questions and celebrates human life", and it is this aspect of their work that is so striking; they use theatre as an empathetic tool. The actors honoured the stories of the Chilean miners, embodying multiple characters with a real sensitivity. They explored different human reactions in a subtle and insightful way; the scenes flicked by as snapshots of human behaviour - for a few seconds we see a starving, trapped miner curiously picking their nose and eating it. It is this commitment to detail which lays bare the level of personal, emotional investment that has gone into the creative process; the group respect the stories of the miners, whilst bringing in their own personal responses.

The use of multimedia ranges from a simple echo effect to evoke the atmosphere of the mines, to complex filming devices: at one point an actor was videoed running, and this video was then projected and moved along a map. A lot of the cast were also accomplished musicians, easily slipping on their instruments to provide a jazz-infused backing track; the use of a trilling saxophone motif was particularly effective to create a sense of media frenzy.

The physical theatre in this production was extremely accomplished; never robotic, each actor had a personalised approach to movement, so that the cast are united yet individual stories are maintained. It feels inappropriate to highlight any particular performance, as the cast entirely complemented each other to create a diverse and strong ensemble. It was also fantastic to see such a female-dominated cast, with both men and women switching between genders with ease and conviction. James Newton as Edison, however, was particularly engaging. He had the audience in the palm of his hand, so that when he imagined the sound of the sea by simply whispering ‘sshh’ a complete hush fell over the theatre.

The Wardrobe Ensemble challenge our preconceptions in fantastically creative ways. Their work is constantly self-reflective, interrogating the way in which we tell stories. It is amazing to see a young company doing such exciting, groundbreaking work, especially as this is only their second major show. I expect big things for the future of the group.


Imogen O'Sullivan

at 22:04 on 13th Aug 2013



The Wardrobe Ensemble’s ‘33’ is an incredibly clever and relentlessly energetic take on the media frenzy that surrounded the trapped Chilean miners in 2010.

The cast begin by asking the audience what they remember about the news story that became an international talking point, emphasising the chains of translation and miscommunication that transform the real memories of these men into gossip and speculation. However, this is not the grand drama of a rescue mission and international aid, but the reality of being hot and painfully hungry.

The cast’s ingenuitive use of physical theatre is flawlessly choreographed and timed to perfection; their silent, slow-motion screaming is shockingly powerful. The music is simple and evocative with effects created by the cast and crew. The echoing cacophony of sound - the clatter of stools and the thud of bodies hitting the ground - perfectly encapsulates the overwhelming fear of the cave-in. Equally deafening are the sounds of voices on the outside - families, friends, press, strangers – the incredible energy of the cast in switching between one high-energy state to the other is commendable.

This is devised theatre of the highest quality: daring, unique, and imaginative, and directed with genius and flair by Tom Brennan. The actors use everything at their disposal to create a backdrop to the story; the use of stools and a video camera as a mine shaft shows truly remarkable creativity. Their projections are well integrated and powerful, and the video camera interviews emphasise the distance this event created between these men and their families – first by virtue of being trapped underground, and secondly by the media circus that followed. I was originally unsure about the surreal interlude with Edith Wooley as (a remarkably convincing) Elvis, but the clip of the real Edison used to close the piece brought the show full circle, and everything clicked into place.

The subject matter had the potential to be overwrought and harrowing, milking the emotive situation for dramatic effect, but The Wardrobe Ensemble managed to find the lighter side, whilst still posing some poignant and vital questions. The miners were saved because of the international human interest in their story, but, through this, their private lives became public property. As the psychoanalyst, Jesse Meadows embodies the perverse curiosity surrounding the event, turning these men into a social experiment. ‘33’ places into sharp relief the ridiculous nature of being asked to score your current level of happiness out of 10 when you’re trapped, starving and hallucinating, and missing the birth of your daughter.

Whilst this may not have been the most flawless acting I’ve seen at the Fringe, it’s certainly the most exciting, imaginative, and thoughtful production. The Wardrobe Ensemble have brought a little piece of magic to Edinburgh.


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