Teviot Underground, Edinburgh

We’re at another student production, down in the Teviot Underground, where we’ve seen many excellent Fringe shows over the years. It’s here that Theatre Paradok have taken on Ondine, a fascinating play by Jean Giradaux, first performed in 1938 (and which, in the 1960s, famously featured Audrey Hepburn in the title role).

All the usual problems are in evidence tonight: a tiny, oddly-shaped stage; a selection of cobbled-together costumes and ramshackle props. There’s also a background buzz of voices coming from the bar next door, and yet the sizeable cast overcome these problems with admirable skill and determination. 

In a remote cottage, Fisherman Auguste (Huw Turnbull) and his wife Eugenie (Sophie Craig) await the return of their ‘daughter,’ Ondine (Clare Robinson). They are fully aware that she’s not their real child, but a changeling, substituted for their infant years ago, and now running wild in the midst of a storm. Ondine is a nature spirit who, though supposedly fifteen years old, has actually been around for centuries and is immortal.

Into this weird scenario wanders Hans (Kristjan Gudjonsson) a knight-errant, currently in love with and betrothed to Princess Bertha (Alice Humphries). He’s ridden into the country to contemplate his upcoming nuptials, but one look at Ondine and he is entranced. She too seems impetuously keen to be his bride.

But by the play’s second act, it’s already clear that the new union is beset by insurmountable problems, not least the fact that, in order to become Hans’s bride, Ondine has been forced to make a draconian pact with The Old One…

To suggest that Ondine is a weird play would be something of an understatement. It occasionally borders on the deranged. But its themes seem powerfully prescient today – the frailty of mankind, the ways in which we have lost touch with the healing powers of nature – and are right there in the story’s subtext. There are some terrific performances here, particularly from Robinson, who manages to keep the feverish intensity of the central character blazing throughout and whose inability to tell lies is the cause of much humour. Gudjonsson is also terrific, imbuing Hans with a sardonic wit and a sense of fatalism, which make his final scenes genuinely poignant. I also enjoy Adam Wu’s double role of The Old One and The Illusionist, managing to slip effortlessly from silent threat to cheerful swagger, while Angus Morrison and Trudy Kalvynaite offer a cheerfully knockabout double act as the two pompous magistrates called in to judge Ondine’s ‘infidelity.’

Director Philomène Cheynet has worked wonders with the uncompromising performance space, making me forgive its shortcomings and allowing me to focus on the strength of the performances. 

Ondine continues until the 30th March, and those looking for something quirky and absolutely unique should definitely seek it out.

4 stars

Philip Caveney


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