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The Dark Carnival

Tramway, Glasgow
Five stars 

Something is stirring beneath the cold, dark earth in Vanishing Point’s rollicking graveyard opera, brought to life by director Matthew Lenton in an epic co-production with the Citizens Theatre in association with Dundee Rep. There are bodies asleep in coffins piled on top of each other as Elicia Daly’s narrator wanders into the light, before Biff Smith and his pasty-faced street corner cabaret band strike up the first of a string of chansons that soundtrack a night of the undead. Above them, mourners pay assorted respects to their loved ones. Higher still, drunken angels keep their own council, enjoying the fruits of their out of touch immortality.

What emerges out of designer Kenneth MacLeod’s magnificent funereal set is a series of noisy visual tableaux to accompany the live music inbetween rhymed exchanges between the eccentric members of an accidentally thrown together underground community. With the sixteen-strong ensemble swathed in celestial light and shade conjured up by Simon Wilkinson, this makes for a slow-burning meditation on life, death and the messy bits inbetween, where any chance of resting in peace is unlikely.

As with much of Vanishing Point’s previous work, there is plenty to reflect on here about loss and grieving. This lends a poignancy to things, especially as related in Daly’s magnificently quasi-Dickensian delivery. This time out, however, there is a kind of bittersweet acceptance and a playful levity pulsing things. So while there are ghosts haunting them all, from Malcolm Cumming’s Young John and Peter Kelly’s Old Peter who mourns him, the peace they crave is enlivened by a song and dance routine to brighten up their sorry state of affairs.

It takes the young, embodied here in the spirit of Olivia Barrowclough’s Little Annie, to fight the collective inertia which binds them. From here, they rise up against those on high and storm Heaven’s gates, as each and everyone sings out for the great refusal, and for the joy of life itself.

The Herald, February 27th 2019


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