A New International

The Dark Carnival


Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

The Dark Carnival is all about death. If that sounds a bit off-putting, let me add that it somehow contrives to be a great big warm hug of a production (all about death). It’s brilliantly written by Matthew Lenton and gloriously performed by a fourteen-strong cast. Throw in the excellent Kurt Weill-ish songs of the charismatic Biff Smith, plus the music of urban folk band A New International and you have something that is as close to unique as it’s possible to be in a contemporary theatre. Oh, did I mention that the witty script is delivered entirely in verse? Well, it is – and that’s quite a feat all on its own.

The action mostly takes place below ground in Dickinson’s Brae cemetery, Glasgow, where many of the inhabitants enter and exit from their respective coffins, but there’s also a raised proscenium arch which gives occasional glimpses into what’s happening above the soil. It even offers tantalising glimpses of the doorway to heaven, though – due to austerity – that door is now kept well and truly locked, guarded by a fag-smoking, wine-imbibing angel (Natalie McCleary), intent on keeping out the riff-raff.  There’s a clever socialist edge to the narrative and I love the observation that the only deceased who have any hope of lingering in the memories of the living are those that have statues and shrines devoted to them.

We are greeted first by a narrator (Elicia Daly), who has some delightful interplay with members of the audience – Fraser, I’m sure she was exaggerating your exploits! – before introducing us to the other characters. There’s Mrs Eugenia Mark (Ann Louise Ross), a whisky-swilling Victorian lady; Major Montgomery Toast (Harry Ward), who has traded his military exploits for an electric guitar; and there’s the restless John (Malcolm Cumming), who still has unfinished business above ground. We are also introduced to tragic new member of the Necropolitans, Little Annie (Olivia Barrowclough, who uncannily inhabits the persona of a bewildered young child with total conviction).

There’s so much here to enjoy that I find myself increasingly dazzled by the scale and ambition of the piece, which has been drilled to perfection. The design, the lighting, the sound: it’s all spot on. The creators describe it as a ‘music and theatre spectacle’ and I’d say that pretty much hits the coffin nail on the skull. Suffice to say that my attention doesn’t wander for a moment and I leave the theatre humming the final song.

On the night we attend, The Traverse is pretty rammed but, if there are still tickets to be had, grab them now before the carnival moves on in the direction of Dundee.

Don’t miss this. It’s a spirited production in every sense of the word.

5 stars

Philip Caveney




Lyceum Variety Night



Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Greig is not all talk. This is a man who walks the walk: he says he believes in the democratisation of theatre, then translates this belief into a diverse programme that truly opens those ‘elitist’ doors. First we had The Suppliant Women, with its chorus of fifty community volunteers. And now we have the Lyceum’s first ever variety night, bringing in a range of performers who wouldn’t normally appear in a venue such as this.

Organised and compèred by Jenny Lindsay of Flint & Pitch (ably assisted by Siân Bevan), this is an eclectic mix – but it’s all high quality, and well-worth the effort of venturing out on this cold Sunday evening.

First up is A New International, a seven-piece band with a lively folkish feel. The violin is glorious, and the singer has a real presence. They’re truly energising, and set the evening’s tone.

Christopher Brookmyre is up next, and he’s really very good indeed, reading a short story set in a Glasgow park about an open air production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. It’s spellbinding and hilarious; I’d have come here just for this.

He’s followed by Emma Pollock, with three beautifully plaintive tunes. She clearly has a real fan base in the audience, and this is an assured set.

Jenna Watt performs an excerpt from her award-winning spoken word show, Faslane, about her complex relationship with nuclear weapons. Her delivery is soft and understated, but she’s telling us hard truths. It’s a fascinating piece and makes me want to see the full version.

Andrew Greig and Leo Glaister are a stepfather and son, and their act is hard to define, producing something that’s somewhere between music and spoken word. But it’s never less than engaging, and it’s witty, nuanced stuff.

Luke Wright is probably my favourite act of the night; he’s a charismatic performance poet, and his poems are both funny and challenging. The one about Iain Duncan Smith (using no vowels apart from ‘i’) is very clever indeed, and earns rapturous applause for its audacity.

Rachel Amey is another poet, and also a highlight of the evening. She exudes a quiet dignity, a serious sense of purpose that makes her verse compelling. There’s an honesty and integrity to her work, that leaves us pondering her ideas long after she has left the stage.

Proceedings are wound up with  A New International, performing three more songs, confirming our initial impression that they’re a band to watch out for.

Bravo, Lyceum! Bravo, Flint & Pitch and David Greig! This evening was a real triumph, and we’ll definitely be back for the next one.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield