Assembly Speigeltent, George Square, Edinburgh

Styx was a palpable hit at the Fringe in 2019, when it featured eight musicians performing in a medium-sized venue. For obvious reasons, this reprise of the show has been severely stripped back and now there’s just singer/ songwriter Max Barton and multi instrumentalist, Jethro Cooke, performing the piece in the much more spacious Spiegeltent. The duo have used low lighting to try and give a cosier feel but, inevitably, there’s a distancing effect for something that requires so much intimacy and, though the production mostly manages to take flight, it occasionally loses impetus and falters.

There are various strands to this elaborate piece of gig theatre: perhaps too many, because they don’t all gel. On the plus side there’s the story of Orpheus and Eurydice (hence the title), which Barton occasionally relates using a voice synthesiser. There’s also the story of his grandmother, Flora, stricken by Alzheimer’s after losing her musician husband, years ago, to the same illness.The recordings of her voice provide some of the production’s most tender and affecting moments.

Less successfully, there are Barton’s memories of a fruitless attempt to track down his grandparents’ old haunt, The Orpheus Club, and also Cooke’s observations about the nature of memory (and the ways in which different parts of the brain store and synthesise it), which feel as though they’ve been lifted directly from a medical textbook.

Luckily, we have Barton’s lyrical, plaintive songs, nicely augmented by Cooke’s pulsing synthesisers and percussion. I’d enjoy them even more if they weren’t punctuated by the sounds of a louder, brasher show drifting in from another venue on George Square.

In the end Styx feels like the curate’s egg – good in parts – and I still have the over-riding conviction that, in a more intimate venue, it would be even better. As if to bear this out, I chat with a barman at the Cameo afterwards who remembers being knocked out by the show in its original incarnation. ‘I remember it,’ he says. ‘It was brilliant. All those musicians onstage, there was hardly room to move.’ Ah well.

The pandemic has enforced many changes, and Styx appears to be another of its victims.

3.6 stars

Philip Caveney


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