Tuesday, August 14, 2007

"The Psychic Detective (and those disappeared)" - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

"The Psychic Detective (and those disappeared)" is an ambitious project that aims to bring the world of film noir to the stage. Well maybe not quite the stage as such, for Benchtours' production is located in a specially adapted "theatre-truck".

The truck is essentially divided in half, with the auditorium on one side seating 20; and the stage area on the other side of a divide. The divide is solid with the exception of a window and a blind that can be opened to allow the audience to see the action or closed to allow images to be projected onto it. It's all very effectively done, although a protruding hand can be seen turning the blinds at times.

And behind the blind is undeniably impressive. Laura Hopkins has created a series of sets that imaginatively create a genuine sense of space and outside environment. There's a real feeling that you are viewing a much larger space than the dimensions of the truck could possibly permit and that sense of scale really has an impact.

The plot involves 1940's private eye Betts as his path crosses with underworld figures and dangerous dames, but as the show progresses it's gradually revealed that things are not what they seem. Visually and vocally the performances of the cast (Peter Clerke, Catherine Gillard and David Walshe) are well pitched for the piece – drawling dialogue complimented with long slow turns to the 'camera' with the cast almost appearing to be in 'black and white'. Equally, Helen Smith's dialogue evokes the noir genre when required to, but also includes some very sharp writing such as the scene where Betts is 'tricked' out of his confusion.

But while making "The Psychic Detective" interesting to watch and a technical marvel, none of this can take away from the fatal flaws in the production that render it ultimately unsatisfying. It takes too long to get from start to finish and is overly repetitive, but the bigger problem is that the 'finish' just isn't a finish. Now, I'll admit that I like my theatre to have a beginning, a middle, and an end, (although they don't necessarily need to be in that order). I can understand the attraction of shows with open endings but "The Psychic Detective" doesn't even take us to the middle of the tale it hints at. To me it's an unfathomable decision for a festival production, and just as the story appears to be taking a genre-defying turn it ends. The audience is left a little bewildered and one individual behind me appeared to assume (not unreasonably) that the 'to be continued' end title means 'after a short interval' rather than at some unknown future date. And given the apparent epic nature of the story that is revealed I'd be concerned Part 2 would continue into Parts 3, 4, 5 & 6.

As a visually and technically impressive production "The Psychic detective" will be hard to better, and the dialogue creates an authentic genre piece, but if you like your shows neatly boxed and self contained – this isn't for you.

"The Psychic Detective (and those disappeared)"
runs until the 27th (not 21st) at 14:30 and 17:00 (meet at the Udderbelly box office 15 minutes before performance)

1 Heckle

Waldorf said...

One thing to note about this is the opportunities missed. Due to the nature of the setting, in a truck parked in George Square, the audience gathers outside the Udderbelly. Right beside the ticket booth.

Crowds of people standing around waiting for something aren't entirely unknown in Edinburgh - but even so we were attracting one or two glances. So why wasn't more made of this.

This is 15 minutes in which they have a chance to capture the passing trade. OK, it's unlikely that someone passing will come to that performance, but there are 2 shows a day.

At the show we attended we spent an uncomfortable 20 minutes standing around. The 'usher' who was escorting us didn't engage us in conversation, and seemed reluctant to loft her somewhat amateurish sign - so that it could be read by the passers by.

Contrast this with the person promoting Hello, Holly! (possibly even Holly herself). Whilst we waited for Kirsten O'Brien, she was bravely handing out leaflets in a gold basque, fishnet tights, purple feather headress and most importantly 3" heels - on cobbles. So what if most people were wondering if she was going to break an ankle - I remembered the name of the show, didn't I?

The meeting point should be the start of the performance, not just the dead time it was.