Edinburgh Fringe 2016
“Working in collaboration with Philip Pullman (creator of His Dark Materials), the bestselling novel comes to life on stage for the first time. After her father’s mysterious death, Sally Lockhart is thrown into the heart of Victorian London, battling unseen forces to uncover the secrets he left behind. Strap yourselves in for a tale of breathtaking intrigue, unforgettable characters, and, behind everything, a legendary ruby waiting to be found…”
Adapted from the first book in the Sally Lockhart series by Philip Pullman, set in the time of Queen Victoria, The Ruby in the Smoke is a fast-paced adventure brought to the Fringe by Reprint Productions (and actively supported by Pullman himself).
It’s always a challenge to take an inches thick book and shape it into an hour for the Fringe stage. Writer and director Madeleine Perhamhas has done that very successfully. The plot is complex and requires your full attention to not get lost. The test of that were both myself as a fifty-year old reviewer and my twelve year-old son. At the end I asked him if he’d understood it all. “Of course.”. And, even though I’d read the book several times, this felt both familiar anf freshly new. I didn’t feel short-changed for a moment.
We enter the theatre to behold an impressive and evocative set. We are in Victorian London as a myriad lights twinkle in the gloom of both a stirring and a shadowy back alley London. This is a story of greed, revelation, secrets hidden and revealed, love and loss. Pullman always packs an unputdownable narrative in the pages of his books and The Ruby in the Smoke is no exception. But it isn’t just compelling story that carries off this production. This is a committed and joined up cast who share many characters between them often changing scenes and characters within seconds. The set is ingenious yet simple. It becomes the opportunity to create rooms, entire scenes and a few props transform from seedy boarding house opium dens to ships at sea and even the firmament itself. It’s all done cleverly, fluently and creates an entire world, a world that we are drawn into as we are carried along by a well mastered script and delivered story.
Occasionally clarity slips, especially when there is too much going on at the same time, when performers have their backs to us and need to project more. But these are minor quibbles in a production that had the entire audience fully engaged.
Sally Lockhart is a strong willed woman in a man’s world and she is more than able to hold her own. Baddies are suitably and chillingly bad, and the story reaches a tense and authentic climax giving the whole hour a very satisfying feel. Strong character acting, and a few decent fight scenes add to the mix.
Well done to the whole company for successfully delivering a such and accessible, well-rounded story – pure and simple, with twists and turns, moments of gripping suspense, and doses of dark humour. This is fine fringe theatre. I’m sure Mr Pullman is proud of what these young and highly capable performers done with his work. We thoroughly enjoyed it.