City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Sonica Presents Sven Werner's Tales of Magical Realism Review

By Kenneth Scott - Posted on 17 August 2013

Sven Werner's Tales of Magical Realism
Show details
Running time: 
Sven Werner (creator / director), Graeme Miller (music), Dave Evans (production manager).
Rachel Jarman, Tony Kernan, Louise McVey and Sven Werner. David Russon and Louise McVey (voice-over), Graeme Miller (music).

We are invited into the charmingly named "Small Animal Hospital" at Summerhall by unsmiling lab-coated attendants. The outside world disappears to be replaced by a darker, mysterious miniature one.

Passing clinical looking rooms devoid of anything but an incongruous armchair, we enter a room where a gramophone plays and a film un-spools to show a train rushing through a landscape. Clearly we are going on a journey.

It starts as we are individually guided to one of those almost empty rooms and (through given headphones) invited by a hypnotic voice to sit, lean back and listen. There is a soundscape suggesting trains, stations, wing beats, footsteps, machinery, gramophones and piano music. For me it's reminiscent of Terry Gilliam's "Brazil", but that's the inside of my head - the point being that it will be, in part, a personal journey. While I feel like closing my eyes the fact that the drawer next to me is emblazoned with the label Rigid Endoscope somehow prevents me.

Following the softy spoken instructions the audience walk through a series of Heath Robinson like, steampunk inspired peep-show devices. Peering into old box cameras with cloth hoods we see simple images created live by mechanical devices while listening to a journey. The images are stripped back, only hinting at the scene as the words, and the viewers imagination, fills the gaps. There are four vignettes as we move from the train with a perception altering conductor, to a strange station with a fairy tale girl, to a shared taxi ride and finally to the gates of a city.

The golden glow of the city is powered by pedalling an antique bicycle. Here our character will find himself drawn back, time and time again as a booming voice exhorts "keep pedalling at a steady pace".

The installation is created and directed by artist and film maker Sven Werner and is based on his film "Oculista" and allows the audience to come nearer to stepping inside the scenes rather than merely watching them.

The ambiance (again for me) is like being inside a K W Jeter novel. It was he who first coined the term "steampunk" and, while he thinks it has largely become a visual tag hijacked by film makers and fans, he commented that it is at heart a salutary acceptance of the machine-ness of machines - and correspondingly an acceptance of the humanity of human beings.

It's an interesting experience, if over all too soon. I would have kept pedalling steadily to learn more of the city, even though in reality I was sitting on an old bike, looking at a static image through a perforated tin. And that perhaps is its magic. The installation might be more satisfying if it were larger with a number of performance types and objects to be explored at leisure, somewhat in the manner of Theatre Cryptic's earlier "Each and Every Inch". There is however a difficult tightrope to be walked in keeping the immersion and allowing the intricate but basic technology to be seen. As part of a trilogy there is possibly room to develop ideas further.

Released back into the real world the audience might still just find magic - if they look closely enough.

Show times

12 - 25 (not 14 or 21) August 2013, every half hour from 3pm to 8pm.

Ticket prices

£14 (£9)