Vigil (4 stars)

This article is from 2019


credit: Jack Offord

Elegy for species on the brink of extinction blends earnestness with humour

26,000: that's the number of species that are either recently extinct or in danger of becoming extinct. It feels impossible to comprehend the enormity of this mass eradication of life on Earth, and harder still to give them an appropriate memorial.

Tom Bailey sits on a box full of bones staring at the back wall of the cavernous performance space. There's a stillness in the air and poignancy to the tableau. Names of endangered species are projected onto the enormous wall, sometimes lingering long enough for Bailey to pay his respects but more often than not it barely gives the audience a second to take in the species' name. The list goes on and on until it resembles World War remembrance monuments. It could simply exist as a durational installation as part of the Extinction Rebellion exhibit at Summerhall but the team create something more complex. It counters the earnest solemnity with self deprecation and dark humour. Sometimes the only thing left to do is laugh.

Bailey's attempt at a memorial turns into mimicry of the animals which only emphasises the insurmountable gulf between humans and the natural world. The audience laughs, of course the attempt was doomed to fail but, like a character trapped in a play by Beckett, Bailey keeps on trying. By the simplest of means, Vigil manages to confront the audience with so much: despair at the immensity of climate catastrophe, the ridiculousness of anthropomorphising the animal world, and hope at Bailey's resistance of total apathy.

Summerhall, until 25 Aug (not 19), 1pm, £10 (£9).


  • 4 stars

Mechanimal Bali tiger. Dusky seaside sparrow. Cinnamon-coloured cryptic treehunter. Psychedelic rock gecko. Fire millipede from Hell… One human. Twenty-six thousand animals. A wildly intimate, interspecies meditation on mass animal disappearance. Praise for Zugunruhe, Mechanimal’s 2018 Herald Angel Award-winning show…