Abacus (4 stars)

This article is from 2015


Credit: Calvin Knight

Compelling TED-style lecture with groovy digital graphics that’s not so much of a parody as it first seems

Both visionary and charlatan, public intellectual Paul Abacus is a passionate, hugely charismatic figure. And in this TED-style presentation, accompanied by groovy digital graphics on giant video screens and carefully choreographed Steadicam operators, he lectures us on everything from dissolving national borders to why there are many more colours than those we normally see, from the evolutionary advantages of altruism to breakfast cereal consumption in the US.

But though it pushes credulity to the limit, and at times treads dangerously close to the messianic or the fascistic, the stroke of genius in Los Angeles-based Early Morning Opera’s compelling show is just how persuasive it is. Abacus – performed with just the right nonchalant swagger by Sonny Valicenti – is a parody of the cool young intellectual, but a lot of what he says is searingly perceptive. His dissection of how nations are nothing more than artificial constructs of trade and colonialism is fascinating, for example.

EMO have created a provocative satire on high-tech multimedia presentations and the allure of big ideas for the future of society. It’s a superb piece of theatre for the mind, but one that also manages to be seductively entertaining.

Summerhall, 560 1581, until 30 Aug (not 11, 18, 25), 6.10pm, £15.


  • 4 stars

Early Morning Opera 'Lars Jan is changing the world – one multimedia presentation at a time' (Modern Painters). Abacus is a baroque presentation delivered by Japanese cult icon Paul Abacus, about the future of national borders, the workings of contemporary persuasion, and our evolving relationship to the screens in our…