Edinburgh festival review: Out of Water – wading into the deep end of memory

Summerhall at Portobello Beach, Edinburgh
Performed on the beach at dawn and dusk, soprano Laura Wright leads a work most memorable for its spectacular setting

Before sunrise: Out of Water – in pictures

Taking place just after dawn or before dusk on Portobello Beach, this piece by Helen Paris and Caroline Wright, with a score by Jocelyn Pook, offers a poetic and musical meditation on how easily we can end up all at sea. It's a wonderful melding of performance and landscape, the sky blushing silvery-pink as we wander across the beach towards the pewter ocean, which meets the shore like a line drawn in charcoal in a child's wonky hand. Awaiting us are a group of sailors in white shirts and royal-blue culottes, a rope at their feet.

Through headphones we hear voices. At first, the shipping forecast, then some instructions on how to conduct mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Then the memories of a woman, now out of her depth, recalling her mother's attempts long ago to teach her to swim. The rope becomes a timeline in which past, present and future coexist. We began as fish, so do we now flounder on dry land? The waves ripple against the shore, gulls wheel in the sky, and the timeless heave-ho of a sea shanty reminds us of the endless push and pull of time. "Her ageing pushes her back," says the woman of her elderly mother. "My children's ageing pushes me forward."

The setting is spectacular and, cocooned in your headphones, there's a sense of experiencing something secret, although not quite fully formed. It's the setting – the infinite horizon that makes you long to strike out and swim towards it – rather than the content that makes Out of Water precious and memorable.

Just when you think it is doing too little, and too slowly, it suddenly bursts into life, focusing on the behaviour of geese who can fly 70% further in a V formation than they can alone. When one in the group tires and must rest, the others drop out to tend it. The sun finds its warmth on the back of your neck, and as you stare out to sea you view a remarkable glimpse of humanity. Not drowning, but walking resolutely towards the future.

• Until 10 August. Box office: 0131-226 0000. Venue: Summerhall at Portobello Beach, Edinburgh.

Before sunrise: Out of Water – in pictures

Contributor

Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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