Two years ago, I was roaming drunkenly around the Fringe with my friend Ruben and I suggested that we pop into the Surgeons’ Hall to see a play. The next one on the rota was Livewire Theatre’s “Frankenstein.” I did not see beyond the word “Frankenstein,” and I declared to Ruben that this would be fantastic. It was, in fact, abominable and I have never been so embarrassed.
Ruben had not seen much Fringe theatre, and “Frankenstein” turned out to be the worst conceivable advert for something which I am passionate about. I tried to compensate him for his ticket but he insisted that we had gambled together. Since “Frankenstein” I have only ever attended Fringe shows alone, afraid of subjecting anybody else to a similar disaster. Yet I was burned again this Fringe after finally relenting and taking another friend to see a play, this time Badac Theatre’s “Anna.” This is my curse: whenever I take friends to the theatre, the shows are always terrible.
This year, once again back at the Surgeons’ Hall, I did not see beyond the words “The Scarlet Letter.” But I was alone this time, and so Livewire’s production was not so bad.
As with 2011, there is the same mystery about who Livewire are. Somebody somewhere is responsible for writing this play, but no way are they going to be caught with their name on the credits. This year, Livewire Theatre finally has a website – or at least a Livewire Theatre does. It is based in Ayrshire and it sells children’s drama workshops and drama-themed parties. In another manifestation of its existence Livewire Theatre is “a community organisation in Bath, Somerset,” which was given a thousand pounds of Lottery money in 2012 to run “creative and interactive workshops for people living with disabilities.” The programme to “The Scarlet Letter” makes the rare concession that “Livewire Theatre can be contacted via: http://www.yourvoice.co.uk.” But anybody who types this into their browser will arrive at the website of an organisation called “Data Partnerships.”
Is this theatre company a front organisation for visiting extra-terrestrials? Has it been set up by some ingenious banker as a tax avoidance strategy? Or is there mafia involvement?
Somebody who is certainly not involved in this play is Nathaniel Hawthorne. The programme renames his heroine “Hester Pyrnne” (ouch!) and the villain Roger Chillingworth is transformed into “Rodger Chiullingham” (stop, you’re hurting!). On stage, the setting of Salem is turned into something like Tolkien’s Mordor, with the puritans snarling and gurning like orcs at the unfortunate Hester. What follows is village pantomime acting and a Ladybird Books retelling of Hawthorne’s masterpiece.
The cast look young and sincere, and I would be disposed to generosity if it was explained to me that Livewire is some sort of educational or charitable initiative. But any such information is deliberately withheld, in order, it seems, to tempt unsuspecting lovers of Hawthorne’s beautiful prose to hand over their cash. “The Scarlet Letter” should be a meadow but it is actually a swamp. Tychy hereby adorns it with a huge bloody “A”: Avoid!