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Edinburgh Fringe 2023

Brief Candle

Blushing Caligula

Genre: Historical, New Writing

Venue: thespace @ Surgeon’s Hall


Low Down

Isla is on a mission to find a present for her mother’s birthday. With her brothers being less than useless she finds herself emerging from the Cowgate into a world filled with secrets and danger. Set against the backdrop of the 19th century Great Fire of Edinburgh, this is a tale of discovery and adventure which ends with survival.


Isla arrives onstage with candles lit around it. She begins by telling us of the hardships which led to the engraver losing concentration and Edinburgh being brunt. From there she goes on to speak of her life and that of her family. It is a familiar tale to be told of the time but here we see the humanity of a young lass, trying her best to bring some kind of cheer to her mother. It is a customary tale told by our performer with great confidence as the script shows a clear dramatic focus – there are plenty of dodgy personalities and skullduggery – essentially people trying to survive.

As a script, Brief Candle has some of the light and shade needed to remind us of the dangers of coming from the familiar into the light of the unfamiliar. Dangers are carefully drawn out as Isla finds herself taking things into her own hands to steal and find a present despite the warnings from her brothers.

Unsurprisingly for a mere girl and slip of a thing, Isla after having told us of how the Great Fire started, Isla found herself raising the alarm, only to be told, things shall be all right. In terms of our current climate emergency such a claim is easily drawn into a parallel.

This works best when Isla describes the darkness as we are in a dimly lit room. The theatrical nature of this piece suits both the venue and our performer. At times it could have been better directed in terms of finding more light and shade in the pace of delivery as it can feel a little one dimensional but Isla is often away swiftly again and taking us with her. It does mean that at times, we lose a little of Isla’s growth, as a character to allow her to have more of an opinion, based on her experience – sometimes it feels like she is a bystander and telling a fascinating tale.

Using the past and the tragedy of the environmental disaster is poignant as we see young women raising the alarm, only to be told that all is well. We have become accustomed to so many trivializing problems associated with our environment. It does not scream and shout about it, but the plot manages to draw us into the idea that not saying anything because we believe it is all fine should never be an attractive option.

The format and the venue suit the production although, there is a constant battle with the air conditioning unit in the corner. Isla wins it most of the time but not always. Of course, not something the company can do much about, however it does at times detract.

I was aware of the Great Fire of Edinburgh, though unsurprisingly, we were all taught about that other Great Fire in another British capital and not the one in our own. Ironically it is that element of this as a production which I think would elevate it further because it is a story we should know and while bringing attention to an event lost to many of us, it has much to be said about our current circumstances.