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Edinburgh Fringe 2016

Ghost Quartet

Dave Malloy & Company

Genre: Live Music, Storytelling

Venue: Summerhall


Low Down

Californian collaboration gives Edinburgh a lesson in how to tell a ghost story.


This excellent four-person ensemble rightfully earned a standing ovation by a Roundabout crowd entranced by their storytelling. A live folk-rock-opera takes us through the tracks of a double album inspired, in part, by Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’.  We dart forward at times to a more contemporary setting: a bizarre camera shop, the subway and city life. As the tale unfolds we begin to wonder about how our ancestors and our heritage, combined with our essential DNA, informs and distorts our relationships. We might argue with a lover, fuelled by whiskey and wine… but are we driven by ghosts from the past? Are we playing out the murky echoes of some ghastly Grimm’s fairy tale?

Brilliantly lit and staged by Christopher Bowser and directed by Annie Tippe, this piece makes clever use of the theatre in the round setting. The music, lyrics and text are written by Dave Malloy who fronts the quartet. Brent Arnold, Brittain Ashford and Gelsey Bell complete the troupe who connect to the audience with warmth and consummate professional charm. Our musical journey takes us through a varied landscape. There are intimations of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Mary Hopkin, Benjamin Britten, Prokofiev. And moments when we are back at school beating percussion. A fair amount of the time though, it feels as if we could be in Ireland, perhaps, sitting around the camp fire as the dry ice conjures the elements. ‘The Wind And Rain’ brings the piece to a climax, the traditional song, harmonises this production and brings it all together in a joyous climax.

The venue suffers from noise bleed so a quieter housing would have been appreciated, and the sound mix could do with focusing on the vocals to give extra emphasis to those of us concentrating on following the narrative but nonetheless at the end of the show I had managed, for a wonderful 65 minutes, to leave the machine.