Edinburgh Fringe 2015
Thrilling grotesquery, a whirlwind of emotion and a very large number of extremely bad puns in a tragi-comic tale of love and murderous intent.
Welcome to a tale set in deepest rural almost anywhere, where people arrive but never seem to leave. This could very well describe the Scottish Borders I inhabit, where every village seems to have at least one idiot, very often augmented by characters of varying eccentricity. Welcome to village life, especially in this rural part of Scotland where the sheep outnumber the men by a factor of five to one.
Very loosely based on the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice, Styx is a whirlwind romance of intrigue, grotesquery, and very, very bad puns. James Orphan must venture to the isolated village of Styx, win back his ex-girlfriend, Eilidh, and prove that he’s not as wet as everybody thinks. But who is this malevolent local postman? And what hold does he have over Eilidh? Why is James’ evil landlady so concerned about boiling eggs? Is there more to the ornithologist and former lollipop man than meets the eye? And why did the village committee take out the only public telephone within five miles and replace it with a defibrillator?
So many questions, so little time to answer them. But this tightly knit cast manage to unravel the mystery with a well-drilled combination of narration to cover the frequent scene changes, rapid fire dialogue and some extremely deft changes of caricature and costume. The acting supports the cleverly crafted script so beautifully that you can see the bad jokes arriving from some distance, rather like the weekly village bus. Using caricatures rather than characters also gives the cast the excuse to play it up for all it’s worth, true commedia dell’arte at its best. And there’s no finer exponent of this difficult art than Mark MacKinnon as Jock, the bird-fancying former lollipop man. His impressively large frame seems to fill the entire stage and he misses no opportunity to over-play his hand. He’s well supported by Tom Rouvray as James Orphan and Chloe Turner as Eilidh with other cast members filling in the gaps with narration and a variety of other engaging eccentrics.
An intriguing set of double-hinged flats morphs quickly between a phone box (yes, that’s right, the one with no phone in it), a less than homely B&B, two bedrooms in the same house and a bus stop with a hidden secret. And Tony McHugh’s splendidly evocative live soundtrack adds colour, drama and romance in all the right places.
Perhaps Old Gracie could have sounded rather less youthful and the music did occasionally seem to overpower the voices it was supposed to be underpinning, but these are trivial observations on what was fifty minutes of quintessentially Fringe entertainment – fast paced, easy to follow, lots of action and a storyline that never got on the way of a good, hackneyed old gag. Thoroughly recommended lunch-time viewing for anyone in need of some silliness.