"As a species, we do not seem to be learning from our mistakes; a message that is painfully poignant for a present-day viewer."DAVID MONTEITH-HODGE

A first experience at the Edinburgh Fringe can be intimidating to say the very least: Who to see? What to choose? Where to start? I turned to family and friends who had enjoyed the festival previously for advice, and resolutely received the unanimous answer that booking anything beforehand would be hasty, since a real flavour of what’s on offer can only truly be tasted upon arrival in the Scottish capital.

“It cannot be said that New Diorama Theatre beat around the bush – the big questions are asked from the very beginning.”

Excitedly scrolling through venue lists and reviews the night before departing, however, my boyfriend and I couldn’t resist booking at least one show (half the fun of a holiday is in the planning, right?), and New Diorama Theatre’s Secret Life of Humans, inspired by Yuval Harari’s bestselling novel Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, sounded too good to miss.

It cannot be said that New Diorama Theatre beat around the bush – the big questions are asked from the very beginning. Where did we come from? What shared history still lives on in us? What can we learn from the past? These questions are answered by an admittedly stiff narrator, who delineates ideas from Sapiens, and from whose wooden delivery our attention is gratefully diverted as cast members appear from the darkness, magically walking on walls in a visual illustration of the timeless footprints of man.

The heart of the production lies, however, in the human story of Jacob Bronowski, real-life historian of science and TV presenter who saw fame in the 1970s with his book-made-documentary-series, The Ascent of Man, a work in which he suggests that homo sapiens are constantly advancing – ascending, if you will – on an ever-forward-facing path. However, as the drama unravels, the audience are forced to question the validity of such a concept, and New Diorama could not have timed more perfectly a performance that asks whether or not we are learning from our mistakes.

The narrative is dual-filtered: through the car-crash present-day Tinder date between Ava and Jamie, we are given a window into a life the of Jamie’s uncle, Jacob ‘Bruno’ Bronowski. This window into Brownowski’s life is provided through a secret, alarmed room in his house, concealed from the world for decades until Ava and Jamie’s one-night stand takes a surprising turn and she persuades him to open up the room.

Through the use of flawless multi-media – including voice and video clips from the likes of Michael Parkinson, Bertrand Russell and even Bronowski himself – and perfectly executed staging, the secret that Jacob has been hiding all these years comes to light. The truth is revealed, as rotating bookcases seamlessly shift, the action between past and present, we discover that during the war, Bronowski assisted with the mathematical calculations for a maximum-casualty bombing strategy for the Ministry of Home Security.

“The wider message of the performance is brought full circle: human beings are ultimately flawed.”

Once armed with this information, Ava reveals her true colours, deciding to use her latest discovery and discredit the reputation of Bronowski, and in turn leading lovelorn Jamie heartbroken. Thus, through this act of Ava’s and the actions of Brownowski 50 years previously, the wider message of the performance is brought full circle: human beings are ultimately flawed.

As a species, we do not seem to be learning from our mistakes – a message that is painfully poignant for a present-day viewer. In a final scene, however, the ghost of Bronowski and his wife sit at their kitchen table, and the on-stage projector with which they are watching a film is flipped in order that the couple’s viewing subject is in fact us, the audience. And as Bronowski sweepingly gestures to the sight before his eyes, marvelling at the wonders that the future may hold, it cannot be denied that a small wave of hope for better things to come ripples its way through the audience

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