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Theatre Review: The Dark Carnival ***

Scott Purvis reviews a production that 'sits closer to heaven than to hell'.

Vanishing Point's The Dark Carnival invites audiences to grab a shovel and head six feet under to a rave beyond the grave, a dark world where the dead observe the living from their cold coffins.

Told almost entirely in a sing-songy verse which shines a bright light on a gloomy topic, Matthew Lenton's hundred-minute show casts the audience as part of the "physical cessation" process - here, the sparse threads of each dead denizen's story is spun into a fine shroud which covers a new mythology of the afterlife. The ashes of their lives are scattered across the years, melancholy stories of love and regret and remorse and guilt, all blown by the winds of time and memory.

Elicia Daly's narrator leads proceedings well, a spirited and soothing ferryman whose friendly delivery keeps the play from becoming a heavy funeral march. Ann Louise Ross, too, keeps a whisky burn of Scottish humour in the piece as a woman killed by a firework and Harry Ward's guitar-strumming Major Toast keeps the evening high-spirited.

Olivia Barrowclough strikes the perfect mood as Little Annie, a child who died at the age of four, but the dialogue and purpose given to such a young kid undermines the piece's power to say something meaningful about mortality. This is in odd, stark contrast to the fine pathos of Malcolm Cumming and Peter Kelly's doomed gay romance, a poignant retelling of Shelley's elegy that "each man kills the thing he loves."

Musically, nonetheless, the piece swings: Biff Smith's energetic band of eight pluck, strum and drum-crash poetic told stories of life and death and beyond. Sounding at once like the last schnapps of Weimar Berlin and a Madness cassette, the group break up the pace of the story a little too much - the lyrics can be tough to discern amongst the noise of the instruments and the meaning is at times consequently lost.

Conceptually, The Dark Carnival is intriguing but its execution is at times botched. It makes some heavy-handed comments about austerity and the nature of religious belief, and some of the more interpretive movement moments are baffling. Still, with its likeable characters, endearing cast and fun script, it sits closer to heaven than to hell.

The Dark Carnival’s run at the Tramway but continues to the Traverse and Dundee Rep.

Tags: theatre

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