The Desk @ Summerhall

Exploring concepts of mind control, power structures and hierarchy, Reeta Honkakowski’s wordless physical theatre piece The Desk makes for an uneasy yet rather thought-provoking hour

Review by Alice Lannon | 05 Aug 2019
  • The Desk @ Summerhall

Five students, five desks, one teacher. Reetta Honkakoski's show, brought to the Fringe as part of Finnish theatre strand From Start to Finnish, portrays the dark side of discipline, and poses the question: what are the mechanics that lead us to comply to the seductive control of influential leaders, and what does this whole experience feel like?

We’re not spoon-fed the answers – indeed, due to the mime/physical nature of the piece, much is open to interpretation. At times, this feels a little frustrating – but on the other hand, this open-endedness could be perceived as contributing to the intriguing, atmospheric nature of the piece. 

And it certainly is atmospheric, largely due to the compelling and utterly convincing portrayal of the sinister “teacher” character.  For a wordless piece, it is impressive that such coldness and creepiness – and above all, a sense of total control – can emanate through the audience with a simple gesture or look from this skilled performer.

The sharp and visually arresting ensemble work is also a credit to the piece, with some powerful choreography – particularly towards the end. The five students work very well together, and we get a strong sense of the simultaneous devotion and fear they feel towards their teacher, expressed through some well-executed physical sequences. The visually intense ending is one that will leave your mind teeming with questions, even a few days later – it's definitely a fitting end for this tense and rather undefinable piece.

Although there is a lingering feeling that some sequences could potentially do with being distilled and clarified to make this easier to “follow” in a more concrete sense, overall this is certainly a convincingly nuanced piece of physical theatre. Ultimately, we are left with no easy conclusions, and a mind full of questions. 

The Desk, Summerhall, until 25 Aug (not 12 or 19), 11.35am, £10-8