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The Dark Carnival review at Tramway, Glasgow – ‘sumptuous, cleverly constructed gig theatre’

Death is a cabaret, old chum, in this collaboration between Matthew Lenton’s theatre company Vanishing Point and Biff Smith’s Glasgow band A New International.

A fresh batch of the newly deceased is being indoctrinated into the ways of death by Elicia Daly’s whimsical, rhyming narrator. It soon becomes clear that in death, as in life, a wee dram and some good songs help to pass the hours.

Smith’s music is more cabaret than carnival, with a strong whiff of Brecht and Weill. The songs hold together a tale of lost love – octogenarian Peter (Peter Kelly) faithfully visits the grave of his boyhood lover John (Malcolm Cumming) 60 years after his death.

A child (Olivia Barrowclough) attempts reconciliation, appearing to Laurie Scott’s ghost-hunting Gary to pass a message from the dead to the living. Above them all, Natali McCleary’s angel sneers down from her cloud, the gates permanently closed on an austerity-hit heaven.

Kenneth MacLeod’s design features sprawling, stacked coffins and a fastidiously neat graveyard, tended by Ramesh Meyyappan’s gravedigger. Simon Wilkinson’s lighting is as sumptuous as it is hard-working, neatly framing the separate, above-ground area so that the living can be seen by the dead.

There is plenty to love about this cleverly constructed and gorgeously presented piece of gig theatre: the brilliant band, the potent reminder of the realities of gay love in the 1950s, and the parallels between the shuttered heaven with today’s monied elite.

But Lenton’s production lacks a substantial centre and Daly’s narrator is an anonymously bland figure, allowing events to unfurl instead of driving them forwards.

Verdict
Sumptuous and richly designed gig theatre show, with music by Biff Smith and A New International

Production Information

Production
The Dark Carnival
Venue
Tramway
City
Glasgow
Starts
February 19, 2019
Ends
March 2, 2019, then touring until March 16, 2019
Press night
February 21, 2019
Authors
Matthew Lenton
Music
A New International
Lyrics
Biff Smith
Director
Matthew Lenton
Set
Kenneth MacLeod
Lighting
Simon Wilkinson
Costume
Kenneth MacLeod
Production manager
Fiona Fraser
Cast includes
Elicia Daly, Biff Smith, Harry Ward, Malcolm Cumming, Ann Louise Ross, Natali McCleary, Peter Kelly, Ramesh Meyyappan, Laurie Scott, Olivia Barrowclough
Producer
Vanishing Point, Citizens Theatre, Dundee Rep Ensemble
Running time
1hr 45mins