Review: Aalaapi

La Messe Basse

Assembly Showcatcher

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

“It is a kind of expression to be silent because what we are hearing is beautiful.”

Aalaapi is a layered online theatre work, combining a radio documentary in which five young Inuit women speak about their lives, and the on-stage production in which two other Inuit women, Nancy Saunders and Ulivia Uviluk, listen to the radio documentary. As the audience watches these women through the small window in their house on stage, they are given a window into Inuit culture, and the lives of women living within it.

Directed by Laurence Dauphinais, Aalapi uses the radio as it’s centre point, grounding the rest of the activity on stage around it. For the majority of the show, the audience only sees the performers through the small frame of the window, but the radio is always present as a centrepiece of the household and an important cultural object in Nordic communities. Layering the trilingual soundscape of the radio documentary with the chat of the women on stage, Inuit throat singing, the ever-present sounds of the landscape, and beautiful informative projections of words, maps and landscapes animated by Camille Monette-Dubeau, Aalaapi immerses its audience in Inuit culture for 80 minutes, at first in the position of outside onlooker, and by the end as a welcomed visitor.

This is not a fast paced plot-driven show, it simply invites its audience to sit, listen and consider. It is poetic and meditative, taking on the pace of a long dark winter evening spent in cosy familiar company. Though the information it shares through its documentary elements is important to share, the truly striking feature of Aalaapi is this slow, naturalistic pace. The act of having two women on stage just chatting, living and listening to the voices of other indigenous women on the radio feels gently radical. There is no need for the idealised strong female lead in this play, because it celebrates the reality of women who are allowed space to be both strong and vulnerable in turn, who don’t have to do something extraordinary to be seen. It makes space for the real day-to-day lives of women to be represented.

Constructed with skill and ingenuity, Aalaapi is an absorbing and immersive piece of documentary theatre which demonstrates the true power of representation on stage. La Messe Basse have created an extraordinary work about ordinary lives.

Aalaapi is available to stream on demand via Assembly Showcatcher until 30th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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