This show was first performed in 1995, when it established Teatr Biuro Podrozy's reputation for innovative, large-scale spectacle. In the mid-nineties, the collapse of the Soviet Union was still being felt across Europe and whole generations of the global population had first-hand experience of the horrors of war. It was 50 years since the Holocaust ground to a halt. The Polish theatre company's meditation on conflict and human suffering must have seemed intense and poetic. Cathartic even, who knows?
What's clear from this four-night revival is that we now live in very different times. The nature of war and oppression has changed dramatically, and much of what we see here—performed outdoors in the heart of Edinburgh's finance district—fails to resonate. The spectacle remains intact, but feels comparatively empty. Get your camera phones at the ready, because this is art for the Instagram generation.
The moments that work best tonight are those in which the audience is directly engaged, forced to feel intimidated and uneasy. When demonic figures on hooved stilts shine torches in our faces and crack whips at our feet, we daren't move for fear of punishment. But as shirts are set alight on crosses and the cast retreat into a blazing metal furnace, we may as well be in the audience of the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, gawking at a firework display.