Deciphering review – a love letter to learning and a deep dive into wonder

There is layer upon layer to Curious Directive’s new work, which excavates the past – and takes us deep down into a network of caves in Indonesia – in order to illuminate our present. It’s an impressively intricate show, created in collaboration with Indonesian artist collective Bombo, whose video footage of the local caves and landscape lights up the show. But for all its complexity, Deciphering is essentially a love letter to learning, brimming with curiosity and suffused with a childish sense of wonder.

At the centre of these crisscrossing layers is Elise, played by three different actors at three different life stages. Young Elise occupies the central stage space: a colourful and cluttered school in Indonesia, where Scottish teacher Mr Robins will inspire a lifelong passion for learning. Above the stage – in Zoë Hurwitz’s packed but nimble set – is a jumble of scaffolding where twentysomething Elise prowls restlessly, unsure of where to land. And deep below the stage lies a dark cave, where a middle-aged Elise will eventually discover a scientific marvel, as well as a part of herself she thought had disappeared for good.

The audience wears headphones throughout. It’s a neat touch from director Jack Lowe, which creates a surprisingly gentle and private atmosphere. Elise’s story, about a young girl learning to let her passions guide her, begins to feel like our own.

The three versions of Elise weave through each other’s lives, literally swooping down from the scaffolding above or crawling up from the darkness below. Stephanie Street compels as the fortysomething Elise who lights up amid the mysterious gloom of the caves and re-finds herself in the ancient symbols scrawled across the walls.

Legally-required role swapping means young Elise is played by Farah Qadirso on the night in question there’s not the real-life mother-daughter actor relationship publicised online. tuttavia, there’s still strong chemistry between all the actors and Qadir’s young Elise and Lewis Mackinnon’s softly spoken Mr Robins work particularly well together. There’s something about having a child actor in their shared scenes that makes the lessons feel very live, very real, very now. When young Elise dances, she is really dancing – not just play-acting. Same for when she laughs, listens and learns. It’s an amazing sensation, utterly immersed in the present but also filled with the promise of what this young actor, with the help of art and education, might one day become.

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