In all, the Mister and I saw 10 performances and went to one awesome whisky tasting during our time at Edinburgh Fringe Fest, but I couldn’t devote an entire article to each one. Some things were too short for their own post or fell short in terms of quality, and I didn’t want to devote entire posts to negative feedback. But, by putting everything on my posted itinerary it looks like I am endorsing it all, and I can’t say I’d recommend everything I saw during my week at the Fringe. So here is my final set of reviews for the rest of what I saw in the order that I saw them.
21st Century Poe: Moyamensing
I was excited for this hour-long performance that promised to explore Edgar Allan Poe’s imprisonment in the Moyamensing prison in 1849. Unfortunately, within the first 10 minutes I wished I had been one of the lucky ones who sneaked out while “Poe” was off stage. The entire tale was told at a decibel level that hurt my ears, and even though the one-man show was supposed to be told through several characters, the only thing that changed about the delivery were the hats he wore. I thought that I was going to get a piece of Poe-like story-telling, with suspense and just the right sprinkling of grotesque, but the delivery was off-putting and the story just plain gory.
City of the Dead: Haunted Graveyard Tour
There are a few different City of the Dead tours, and this one takes your group to Greyfriar’s cemetery. I love these kinds of tours and the guide was just as engaging as I’d hoped. There was just the right amount of humor to offset the truly horrific details of Edinburgh’s past and their dealings with their dead. If you like true stories of the darkest pieces of history, definitely check this one out.
Arthur Conan Doyle Experience
The Arthur Conan Doyle Center is housed in a beautiful Victorian townhouse on a lovely street. The lecture took place in the sanctuary for the Edinburgh Association of Spiritualists, though the speaker was specifically not going to be talking about spiritualism. She focused instead on the time in Conan Doyle’s life that he lived and worked in Edinburgh and focused on trying to tell the audience things they might not already know. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t know much about his life at all to start with, so the lecture felt sort of scattered and there were many times when she started a sentence with “And as you already know” and ended with “so I won’t go into that.” So if you are looking for an intro to this amazing writer’s life, I’d start somewhere else. This was clearly meant for people who already had some background knowledge.
The Center itself is worth a quick look if you are in the area. The upper levels are accessible in all of their Victorian splendor, and there is a gallery space that is lovely and bright. The Center offers yoga and other practices to enhance your mind-body connection, as well as studio space for artists. I thought there would perhaps be an exhibit or something about the man himself, but alas, there are just books in the gift shop. So don’t plan on spending more than a few minutes there if indeed you go at all for anything besides a lecture.
This was a totally different way to present the tale of Dorian Gray from the manner of Victorian Vices. In this version the actors were all in black and white, including their painted faces. They never revealed the portrait to the audience, but used a large canvas on stage that was smeared with “blood” by Dorian’s victims after their deaths or ruination. The show moved far too quickly, even the lines were delivered rapid-fire, so it ended up feeling like the Cliff’s notes version of The Picture of Dorian Gray and lasted maybe 20 minutes total. But the proceeds go to a charity so if you are in the area and have half and hour to kill it is an interesting little show.
I didn’t actually put this on my formal itinerary because it was an free, non-ticketed event and I wasn’t certain I’d make it there. The small but appreciative crowd assembled inside The Wee Pub in a wonderful little room complete with a beautiful old-timey fireplace and lights. Unfortunately, the large picture window overlooked Greenmarket Square and there was a lot of activity outside. The music of the street musicians really detracted from the tales of horror and made it difficult for the actor to build the kind of suspense that he was going for. David Crawford has a wonderful voice for telling scary stories, and I’d love to see him again in a different setting. He asked for suggestions after the show because he is planning to have some engagements in the US, so maybe you will get a chance.
The Durham-based company, Another Soup, has two back-to-back shows this year at the Space on Niddry St. Both are promenade musicals, meaning that the actors move in and out of the audience to give them an immersive experience. I have never seen a show like these before and I thought the approach was interesting, though better suited to Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls than to a Picture of Dorian Gray. In Sweeny Todd, the ‘ladies of the night’ and other patrons of Mrs. Lovett’s shop wend their way through the audience going through purses and trading hats with members of the crowd, which was engaging and silly fun during a tale of gruesome murders. But the side characters in Dorian Gray were aristocrats (though similarly gin-soaked by the end) which didn’t lend itself to the same treatment, and the larger crowd made it difficult for a short person stuck in the middle of the pack (ie, me) to see most of the action.
The lighting situation was also more favorable to Sweeny Todd, and faces were never lost behind the shadows of the audience, where Dorian Gray could have benefited from even one light in Dorian’s chambers when tall patrons between the single bank of lights and the small but lovely set sometimes totally obliterated the well-executed efforts of the cast. The audience is expected to stand and move about during the shows, as well as occasionally dancing with the actors, something I wish I had known before spending the whole day at the National Museum of Scotland and then seeing the shows one after the other. By the time I got home my feet were killing me! So be prepared if you are planning to see them both. (People with health issues are welcome to sit during the performances but they will definitely miss some of the action.)
So let’s take them one at a time.
Sweeny Todd and the String of Pearls is adapted from a serialized tale called The String of Pearls: A Romance, which took place in 1785 and was first published as a serial in 1846-47. The story has been adapted for stage and screen many times over, but in case you aren’t familiar with it, here’s the short version. Sweeny Todd is a barber on Fleet Street in London. He kills his victims (sometimes through breaking their necks and sometimes giving them too close a shave with his straight-edge razor) and then disposes of the bodies by giving them to his neighbor, Mrs. Lovett, to bake into meat pies at a time when meat is very scarce in the darker corners of the city. In Another Soup’s version, the story takes place in the 1850s during the Great Stink and the Cholera epidemic of 1858 but the main plot is still the same. Depending on the adaptation, Todd and Lovett are business partners, friends or lovers, and in this version they are most decidedly the latter, sometimes carrying on their affair while the main action of the show takes place elsewhere. It is Todd’s affection for Mrs. Lovett, who commits the first two murders, that leads him to help her with the cover up and makes him her “supplier” for her meat pies. Business is booming so Lovett needs an assistant, which eventually leads to their discovery and downfall.
The music was played by a live band including an accordian that sometimes was in the thick of it with the actors. The enthusiasm of the cast was infectious and the singing was well blended and balanced. I enjoyed having the sound come from all around me when the actors were sprinkled throughout the crowd. Todd and Lovett were very well cast and did a splendid job, as did the playful smaller parts. Unfortunately, if you are right next to the band you lose a lot of the lyrics, which were in general much stronger writing than the dialog. The music is clearly the focus of the show, but when the actors don’t have mics it can be hard to follow.
For the best experience, I would suggest that you stand near the corner of the room where the two sets come together so you can get the most out the singing but still hear the music clearly. Be prepared to move during the show and come back together in a different configuration. I loved this aspect because it allowed people who had not had as good of a vantage point in the beginning to see more of the show later. So even if you start out at the back, be patient and you will get a chance to see, plus more of a chance to interact with the side characters. The crowd for this show was smaller than for Dorian Gray, and I think the group of 30 or so in the audience is the right size for the venue.
After about a 30 minute break where we rested our feet by sitting on the stone steps outside, we went back in for round 2. The Picture of Dorian Gray was the first show I found on the Ed Fringe docket to write about for Victorian and Steampunk inspiration and I was the most excited to see it. Sweeny Todd I had seen as a musical before, but never Dorian Gray and I was intrigued. The story centers on Dorian, a lovely youth seduced by the delectable debaucheries of the Victorian age, his mentor, Lord Henry Wotton, and the painter of his portrait, Basil Hallward. Upon seeing his portrait, he wishes that he could always stay as young and beautiful as it is, and in wishing makes a pact with the devil. Dorian falls in love with an actress, but later rejects her when she wants to quit the stage, which leads to her suicide. When he later looks at the portrait, it has changed and started to become ugly to reflect the decay of his soul while he remains the same.
The three main male roles were perfectly cast, though I think the strain of so many performances was starting show in their voices (and who can blame them!). The music and especially the female chorus voices were lovely (and the “sisters” steal the show), though they sometimes overpowered the male soloists who were singing very low in their ranges, which makes it harder to project in a room without very good acoustics. They were all very true to their roles and stayed in character, even when I saw one audience member start to giggle in Henry’s face during a dramatic moment in the closing number. So, well done to the cast for making the most of a less than ideal situation.
The crowd was larger, and I think on the whole taller, which meant I could not see nearly as well as during the first show. At least half of the action takes place right in front of the band, and so directly in front of a bank of stage lights which also made it harder to see. I would love to see this show again staged as a traditional musical where I could get all the action from start to finish. (I think the best place to stand for this one is near the free-standing gas lights on the near wall as you enter the space.) Because I knew the basic story already (though I haven’t read the original yet) I wasn’t surprised by the turns of events, but I didn’t feel that the dialogue did enough to move Dorian from one stage of his thinking to another. I would have liked to see him first fall in love with his painting and then become jealous rather than his first reaction to be disdainful. I also liked that the homosexual undertones were brought to the forefront, but I found the scene where Dorian and Basil kiss to feel strange and I expected to see Basil more swept up and given hope rather than saddened. But on the whole the acting was very good even if the actors made different choices than I would have.
If you only choose one Victorian Vices show to see, I would say go with Sweeny Todd for the dynamic staging and charismatic Todd and Lovett. Dorian Gray was very well done, it just didn’t work as well in the space. If you have comfy shoes, they are great to see back-to-back for a great night of entertainment. The soundtracks for both shows will be available soon, and I highly recommend them!
Both shows are running from now until the 23rd, so don’t miss your chance to taste a little vice.
Get tickets here: tickets.edfringe.com
Learn more about Another Soup at their website: www.anothersoup.co.uk
There are two shows at Edinburgh Fringe Fest that reinterpret Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray (1891) and I hope to see them both. In case you don’t know, Dorian (who makes an appearance in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen) is an immortal. There is a painting of him that ages and becomes gradually more and more hideous to reflect the degradation of his soul, and if he ever looks at it the spell is broken and he will die.
Here are the descriptions of the two shows:
London, 1859. The wealthy young man, Dorian Gray, arrives in the piteous promenades of Piccadilly and begins to model for artist Basil Hallward. He meets the incorrigible Lord Henry Wotton and makes a life changing decision, which amazes and appals friends and foes alike. He indulges in the variously sordid Victorian vices of the times, tainting his acquaintances and using his wondrous looks to turn all those he comes into contact with away from the light. Original, immersive promenade musical.
|Genres||Site-specific, Musical theatre|
|Venue||theSpace on Niddry St|
|Duration||1 hour 40 minutes|
A collaboratively devised creative adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray in a high impact Berkovian style, putting a new spin on the classic tale of the pursuit of hedonism and the destruction of the human soul. Performed by six promising young actors from Dorset.
|Genres||Physical theatre, Devised|
|Group||The Egg Theatre Company|
|Venue||Greenside @ Nicolson Square |
When I get closer to Steam Tour I will post a schedule of when I intend to see which shows. Maybe I will see you there!