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158

It is a typical afternoon at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I go to the Summerhall to check out the new play from Molly Naylor. Some friends want to come to the theatre with me, but I warn them that Naylor is a poet and probably too boring for them. I am reviewing her only because I did so in 2010 and she seemed quite nice and I would like to help the poor dear out once again by giving her some exposure on my website. At the venue, they tell me that the show, “Extinguished Things,” is sold out for the rest of the Fringe. As I leave, dumbfounded, I bump into a poster which tells me that the performer is actually called Molly Taylor – she is a completely different artist.

I have a Plan B – you should always have a Plan B. It is admittedly a comic show at C Cubed with “Squirrels” in the title, but it is on soon. As stalk up one of the damp wynds towards the Royal Mile, I run into thirty or so people who are coming in the other direction. They are wearing neon headphones and singing “celebrate good times, come on!” This is Guru Dudu’s “silent disco” jogging tour and it is being apparently led by Guru Dudu himself: a man in orange goggles and a bathing cap. He has clearly got lots of ants in his orange pants. The silent disco isn’t very silent – they are all caterwauling exuberantly at me. Summoning up centuries of dire, witch-burning hatred from the surrounding cobbles, I glower.

On my way to C Cubed, I pass a striking spectacle that is part funeral and part sing-song. A row of men and women in Victorian mourning dress. One of them hands me a flyer: “The Death of Edgar Allan Poe.” These guys are from Anchorage, Alaska. They must have been getting up to something arty during all of those black, black, blizzardy nights. Tonight is their final show – they are being waved off to Alaska and their Poe will expire for the final time.

At C Cubed, the box office attendant cannot log into his computer. Or rather, he cannot log out of the previous attendant’s account. “Maybe the password is ‘password’,” I suggest idiotically. I leave him puzzling over the mystery.

So “The Death of Edgar Allan Poe” it is then. Poe seems to die on stage frequently at the Fringe and I have encountered the This-Is-Your-Life format of this play at least two times before. As Poe dies (and this production attributes the event to alcoholism) he reflects upon his career and some of his stories and poems spring to mind.

There is “The Tell-Tale Heart” as the crowd-pleaser; “The Premature Burial” as the interesting obscurity; “The Masque of the Red Death” for its soul; and “The Raven,” a poem so hallowed that it now sounds distinctly like the Lord’s Prayer, as the rollicking climax. Although this setup is always superficially encouraged by the succinctness of Poe’s works, it can never do justice to their breadth. The Alaskans decide upon Poe’s solemn Gothic melodrama as a salvageable torso and they duly amputate his trailblazing detectives, his science-fiction, his hoaxes and his humour. The writer, P. Shane Mitchell, might reply that his Poe is dying and thus unlikely to want to chortle his way through “The Man That Was Used Up” for one last time.

I often comment that Americans can gel into ensembles much better than British, or indeed any other, actors. There are eighteen Alaskans – as far as I can count – on stage in this show. They all mill about elaborately in hive patterns. There are snazzy steampunk beards and costumes, as well as some spooky lighting and sound design. A few of the performances are a little hoary, but overall the show is a great deal of fun. I always picture Poe as being fastidious and permanently offended – rather like Basil Fawlty, in fact – but this Poe (Wayne Mitchell) is a depleted, drawling Southerner. He is by and large a sane Poe, with a pocket full of gloomy pathos for us.

The audience is mostly American. They are no doubt here seeking home comforts and Poe is generally more available at the Fringe than authentic honey-fried-chicken pot pie. The venue, C Too is, incidentally, a church and the audience comes to feel like a congregation. “Ladies and gentleman, please bow your heads. Let us pray. Once upon a midnight dreary…”

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