Edinburgh Fringe 2017
Mangonel Theatre have brought a lost piece of history back to life, but there is a lot of room for improvement of the presentation.
The small Sweet Venues Grassmarket 3 was the location for this one-woman talk about the 19th century murderer John Adam. The story is quite an obscure one, certainly unknown to all but a few historians, but it does have interesting twists and turns. Whilst not being a major case, the story would have made an excellent melodrama, being the equal to that of Maria Marten and William Corder of the infamous Red Barn Murder in the same era.
Adam was married to a homely woman named Jane (whom he defrauded) and lived a double life with his mistress, who was unaware he was married. Tiring of his wife, he almost certainly murdered her in a frenzy and was executed for this in 1835. He was known as the Mulbuie Murderer. He never confessed to his crime and was the last man to be hanged in Inverness.
The narrator of this tale is Kym Hunt. There are many opportunities she could have taken with her work that were left untapped. There was no sound at all. Nothing. After the lights going up one by one at the start as she proclaimed the places where Adam had been, there were no lighting cues – just every lamp up full, destroying any chance of mood. There were no images from a projector, which would have been a superb help. No set. Not even a costume. She came out onto a bare stage in modern clothes and just spoke on the spot throughout. An occasional hand gesture, but no attempt at portraying the characters she was telling us about. It totally lacked direction.
Although Kym really needs to look at her overuse of the phrase ‘So, you see…’, she has done a remarkably good job of remembering the full story clearly and calmly. It is evident she is interested in the story, maybe even passionate, and she does not appear phased by appearing in front of an audience. She is well-paced and engaging enough to hold our interest. But this is not a piece of theatre. It is, in every respect, a talk (and running way short of its advertised time at 40 minutes). I am happy enough with it being no more than a lecture and the rest of the audience seemed content with that too, but it does need rebranding and it certainly needs some bells and whistles. So many things could have been helped by an image – the places where he’d stayed, his death mask (on public display in Edinburgh) and even the car park where his bones lie lost today. It would have been easy for Hunt to have worn a costume hinting at the era, or to have paced the space and acted out some of the exchanges even in a basic way but there lies the issue; she strikes me as being an academic who is comfortable doing public speaking but she is not a performer. Even a piece of music at the start and end would have lent Wandering Bones an element of theatricality but it was not to be.
The piece is not boring – I was intrigued and it held my interest and Ms Hunt seems friendly and engaging enough. It is just devoid of any imagination in terms of presentation. With time spent on fairly simple things, this presentation could have legs.