Edinburgh Fringe 2015
An extraordinary promenade show through the converted basement of Summerhall where a seemingly innocent and playful tour of the Makenzie Institute for the Engagement of Vocal Harmony becomes a dark modern day fairytale examining how girls’ identities can be squashed and controlled by others.
We cluster on the stairs leading to the basement at Summerhall where we are welcomed by Dr Broderick Mackenzie (Crawford Logan), the director of to a tour of MIEVH (Mackenzie Institute for the Engagement of Vocal Harmony). His two assistants Violet (Hannah Donaldson) and Cora (Isabelle Joss) smile rather artificially at his side.
As you enter, you can’t quite help feeling that the basement was built to house MIEVH with every available space filled with pulsing machinery and pipes, ominous ‘No Entry’ signs or framed photographs of Dr Makenzie with all the famous people he has treated. In the course of the tour we enjoy a whole variety of special experiences in this mysterious institute; a song and dance in a corridor, a soothing lie down in the listening room and a scientific experiment in the laboratory that sees the voices of troublesome girls turned into candy floss.
There seems to be a never ending supply of new rooms and spaces to take us into. The effect is disorientating and contributes to the sense of being in another world. And, being the basement together with all the voice noises means the outside world retreats completely and it is rather a surprise to find it is still there when we emerge.
Although it is a promenade show there isn’t a great deal of standing around feeling slightly awkward or wondering what is happening because we can’t see. The characters manage the journey well and ensure that everyone can see at each stage. At one point we even get to lie down and listen to the soothing Dr Broderick who seems so kind and so helpful as he turns little girls voices into candy floss. But gradually there are hints that there is more to this place than meets the eye… Just as the tour ends and Dr Makenzie wants to send us on our way this seemingly innocent and playful visit turns ominous. Dr Mackenzie’s spirited daughter Beatrice (Amy MacGregor) finds the courage to share that all is not as it seems at the Institute and takes us on a further journey in search of a lost voice. Finally, the dark reality of his work is revealed; he is ruthlessly stealing girls’ voices.
At the start Logan’s performance as Dr Makenzie is ebullient and confident, whilst MacGregor seems the perfect daughter with Donaldson and Joss appearing to be almost twins in their smiling acquiescence and devotion to the doctor. However, all four are convincing as they gradually reveal a different side to their character and things get deliciously scary as we reach the climax of the story; however, I did feel that Dr Makenzie gives in a little too easily and the end felt slightly rushed.
The show was co-created by Gill Robertson (also director), Ian Cameron and Karen Tennent (also designer) and demonstrates the strength of this approach in the ways that the piece feels completely integrated throughout – the set isn’t merely there to put the actors on, the sound and lighting weave through the piece. It is utterly beautiful.
Under all the storytelling, drama and excitement the show addresses serious themes about the oppression of women. The silencing and moulding into something ‘appropriate’ that is the everyday experience of many around the world.
An excellent piece of theatre for children 9-12 although there were quite an many adults as children when I saw it.