The Empire Builders @ Institut français d’Ecosse, Edinburgh Fringe

Boris Vian’s 1959 absurdist play The Empire Builders examines the downfall of a bourgeois family, who become increasingly alienated from their surroundings and each other. Turkish theatre company Hayal Perdesi’s staging is a darkly comic and delightfully sinister approach to this play, that captures Vian’s sense of uncertainty perfectly.


The Dupont family have just moved into their new home, but daughter Zenobia thinks this house is too small. She wants to go back to their old one with 6 bedrooms and the colourful window box in her room. Her parents on the other hand can’t remember ever living in a house so big. As the play goes on, the horrible sound they are trying to escape from appears to be following them, forcing them to continually move lodgings. In the end, the father of the family Leon is the only one left, and the noise catches up with him forcing him to acknowledge it to the bitter end.

The most striking aspect of the play is the set design by Selin İşcan, who has used white tape to indicate the structural shape of the family’s home. As they move from space to space in each scene, this structure gets smaller, continuously shutting each of the characters out, and therefore the set becomes a visual representation of the play’s alienating claustrophobia. The sharp lighting emphasises to the clinical atmosphere created by the white props, adding to this theme. The energetic performers make the small space feel dynamic which makes the climax more effective in depicting Leon’s isolation. The Empire Builders is a very impressive piece that Hayal Perdesi have masterfully staged.

The Empire Builders is at the Institut français d’Ecosse until 21st August. 


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