The Afflicted (4 stars)

The Afflicted

Four girls explore a chilling mystery through the medium of dance

In a small town in upstate New York circa 2011, a group of previously unremarkable girls started acting oddly, moving strangely and falling ill, leaving the medical community searching for an explanation. The first show from Scottish theatre collective groupwork aims to explore a fictionalised version of events; co-directed by Finn den Hertog and Vicki Manderson, The Afflicted is a dance piece which doesn't provide any concrete answers, but does manage to exert a hypnotic quality as it worries away at the mystery.

Four girls are on stage when the lights come up; dressed in uniforms, they start to twitch and jerk rhythmically; they could be graduates from the weird school of dance seen in the remake of Suspiria. They evoke the girls of Hope River, a stand-in for the real-life town of Le Roy, and the group put the mystery centre-stage, inviting the audience to puzzle at the spectacle.

There's a potted history lesson of the fictional town; faked video evidence, cleverly edited archive film of news outlets covering the story. Included in the exposition are mentions of the Salem witch trials, suggestions of devil worship, and a story about a group of girls who filled their pockets with stones and ended their lives by walking into the river. The abusive practices of the town's men are cited as an explanation, and that seems probable, but not everything is so easily explained away …

The Afflicted worries away at some big questions; is there any genuine scientific explanation? What happened to the girls after the media circus moved on? How is the 21st century any different from the 1600s for women who refuse to be subjugated by men? As the first work from a new Scottish company, this is an auspicious, confident debut, well conceived and performed, and recommended for those with an interest in dance and the macabre alike.

Summerhall, until 25 Aug, 7.30pm, £14 (£10).

The Afflicted

  • 4 stars

Groupwork Inspired by real events, this new dance-theatre piece tells the story of a mysterious illness that infects a group of young women in small-town America. As the girls and their families search for a diagnosis to their strange affliction, they come face to face with their personal and collective demons. Drawing…

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