Optical Identity

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Theatre Cryptic and the T'ang quartet
Cathie Boyd (director and concept), Jason Ong (set design), Baylene (costumes), Nich Smith, ( lighting), Kelly Butterfield (documentary video), Joseph Lee (director of photography).
Ng Yu-Ying, Ang Chek Meng, Lionel Tan, Leslie Tan (T'ang Quartet) and Jasch, (digital artist)
Running time

Theatre Cryptic is renowned for combining music, film, dance, movement and language in imaginative multi media performances. The word "cryptic" means mysteriously obscure. One of the aims of the company is "to create a sensory world of escape." 

This is exactly what artistic director Cathie Boyd achieves extremely well. Previous productions on the Edinburgh Fringe include the magically captivating "Journeys and Memories" (2001) which took the audience on a time travel trip from wartime Europe to 17th century Italy, featuring string quartet, dancer and archive film footage. At the Fringe 2004, the company performed "Each and Every Inch," an intelligent dramatisation of the life and work of Canadian writer Elizabeth Smart through snippets of text, poetry, photographs, film, dance and two cellos. These two mesmerising shows linger in the mind with extraordinary clarity.

"Optional Identity" is a collaboration between Theatre Cryptic and the T'ang quartet, (commissioned by the Singapore Festival 2007) and described as " a visual musical journey entering a sumptuous realm of the global, sensual, virtual and real."  The starting point was Cathie Boyd's interest in the psychological condition of synaesthesia, whereby people have an enhanced sensory experience, seeing colours when listening to music. She wanted to experiment in recreating this through a performance of contemporary music combined with digital video, black and white film, light and design. 

The selection of world music is exciting and culturally diverse: String quartet no 1, White Man Sleeps, three dance sequences inspired by Basotho concertina music, by South African composer Kevin Volans  - described as one of the more inventive composers since Stravinsky. Next a shift in style with Phonotype 1 by Norwegian musician Rolf Wallin. Inspired by Chinese elements, wood, metal, water, fire and earth, the various sequences are played live in real time but superimposed with a pre-recorded, computer -generated performance. 

Franghiz Ali-Zadeh combines Western avant-garde composition techniques with traditional music of her native Azerbaijan. This tranquil evocative piece for cello and violin Mugam Sayagi, evokes a secret Islamic language and echoes the sound of prayer. Finally, Manuel Override by Joby Talbot, known for his work with The Divine Comedy and The White Stripes, creates a musical game with the quartet interacting live and recorded sections.

"Optical Identity" was presented under the EIF 2007 Theatre programme, but is this really "theatre"?  Unlike Theatre Cryptic's other work there is no narrative storyline.  Instead this was a "dramatised" concert to make us see and hear the music.

Unfortunately, on first night, part of the live high-tech, video improvisation by digital artist Jasch failed to work so we lost some of the visual impact. The cool and crisp performance by the musicians, dressed in white, slowly emerging from the smoky shadows was carefully choreographed as they moved seamlessly from intimate, haunting passages to fresh, vigorous rhythms, rich in vitality. Around a sculpted set and screen backdrop depicting fragmented filmic images, light and colour, this synaesthesiatic musical experience was certainly visually and aurally stimulating.

Show times: EIF: 31 August and 1 September, 2007; 

European tour Autumn 2007 - Alicante Music festival: 29 September; Stornoway, An Lantair: 24 October; Ardfern:26 October; Nottingham, Lakeside arts centre: 30 October; St Andrews, Byre theatre:1 November: Langholm, Buccleuch centre: 3 November; Glasgow, New Anaetheum: 8, 9 and 10 November.