Anatomy Arts proves that performance art is still relevant (4 stars)


A showcase of work that avoids the respectable and predictable

In celebrating its fifth anniversary, Anatomy provides a reminder that performance art – or live art, or that kind of performance that sits uneasily yet happily between genres – is still in rude health. Performance art has a reputation for being wilfully obscure, needlessly provocative or self-consciously cerebral, yet the curation of this cabaret-style evening ranges across wry commentary on the funding of the arts, visceral meditations on illness, punk outrage at the state of the nation, formal experimentation and, in SEX-SEX-SEX, a brutal questioning of popular music's notions of desire, given a subtle Islamic perspective.

While the structure of the evening is elegant – building to the climax of two overwhelming solos from Cultured Mongrel and Sarah Zaltash – and an affirmation of Anatomy's support of and commitment to the more esoteric yet vibrant styles of theatre, the shambolic hosting and interludes between the acts undermines the performances' urgency. Although the shift of venue from Summerhall to the Traverse finds Anatomy in an unfamiliar space, the slow changes between the acts makes the evening over-run by nearly an hour – causing a panicked exodus by audience members hoping to catch their last train – and lessens the intensity of the experience.

Despite this, some of the individual works are stunning. Cultured Mongrel's autobiographical choreography of illness and recovery is unsentimental and raw, evoking both the agony of medical intervention and the bemusement of the patient. SEX-SEX-SEX is a savage dismemberment of pop music, unearthing the violence of what appears to be those words of love. Other works reveal a preoccupation with the financial pressures of living as an artist, slip into occasional nostalgia for the honest aggression of earlier avant-garde theatre and, gallingly, encourage audience participation without sufficient respect for the audience themselves: it's rare that the personal hygiene of a performer becomes an issue, but when Moreno Solas crawls across an audience, the provocation becomes problematic due to a malevolent body odour.

At times, the interest in exploring the skill of the performer or the structure of a monologue shades into self-indulgence, and the ambling, amiable MCs don't hide the weak stage-management of the transitions: political commentary is sometimes clumsy if passionate. But Anatomy, after five years, has become an important fixture in the Edinburgh scene, championing the wild, untamed, immediate and intelligent, a rough corrective to the pieties of scripted theatre and an incubator of talent.

Run at the Traverse has now ended.