The Lives of the High-Rise Saints, Summerhall, Review

Rating (out of 5)
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Agata Kucińska
Running time

Polish writer Lidia Amejko’s The Lives of the High-Rise Saints (an intriguing take on Butler’s classic 18th century text Lives of The Saints) has been adapted by puppeteer Agata Kucińska in this one woman show.

One character says, “You are nobody if you are not described in beautiful words first”. On the same principle as Alasdair Gray writing imaginatively about Glasgow in his novel Lanark, Amejko’s text seeks to elevate invisible lives to the level of the seraphic.

On a bleak concrete housing estate roof top that is forested with TV aerials, residents, who believe it was formed by a divine concrete mixer outside the plan of creation, sit grimly on deckchairs imagining a better fate. Blowing anger in to balloons or keeping dreams in a jar are part of the enticing idea that ordinary people be given extraordinary status in the form of sainthood and sounds like the stuff of fairy tale. Yet in spite of Kucińska’s clear talent, the result was joyless.

In the pitch blackness of the Cairns Lecture Theatre at Summerhall there is a sense of being in a ghost train awaiting the unknown as a drum is brushed deftly in the background in anticipation of the story unfolding. Puppeteer Agata Kucińska narrates from behind a clothed cut out jean clad figure before displaying her not inconsiderable skills of manoeuvring the tiny roof top figures as they shift and doze in their deckchairs, imbuing them with subtle emotions and movements.

In turn, each character is manifest to almost life size as each story is told. Kucińska does this innovatively through a skilled mixture of puppetry and her own physicality. Apart from the sounds effects Kucińska does all the work herself on stage. She could do with some help as there were too many long periods of darkness between scenes with nothing to fill the gap.

Apart from the woman who dealt with her husband’s ravings with a dismissive ‘humph’ there was little humour. The puppets, though skilfully made, looked macabre and grotesque. The joy of a line of unlikely new saints rising to heaven was not reflected in the imagery, music or costume. This lack of transformation leaves a sense of relentless doom from the puppets and the story with only the words telling us that each character achieves this high order. This seems to be a missed opportunity with only Kucińska's occasionally visible smiling face belying the miracle.

The piece has strong religious overtones but it may have been better that the characters made the best of lives here on earth rather than focussing on an imaginary hereafter.

The show is supported by the Adam Mickiewicz Institute.

10 - 12 October 2013, 7pm 

£10 (£8)

Age Group: PG