Edinburgh Fringe 2010
Inspired by the stories of Edgar Allan Poe and the macabre stylings of Tim Burton, Ernest is a gothic tale of obsession and thwarted desire. Told through a combination of live music, inventive design and physical storytelling, this is a tightly scripted delve into the darker side of humanity.
In the seventh window along on the thirteenth floor a man waits for his nightly appointment with the woman with a shock of white hair, whose curtains open to reveal her face looking up in the moonlight. One night he sees her with another man and in his rage grabs a knife – sparking a chain of events in which nothing is quite as it seems. Told through a mixture of physical storytelling, live music and a range of self-produced sound effects, Les Enfants Terribles take the storytelling of Edgar Allan Poe and the styling of Tim Burton as inspiration for this gothic play.
Visually this show is stunning. Reminiscent of a Francis Bacon painting, the set is so imaginatively deployed that it does as much to further the tale unfolding as do the characters. Floors become walls, windows become hanging windows – nothing is static. This lack of fixity extends to the characters, who reflect and even segue into each other. Lighting and props combine to create the strange moonlit world of the play, a darkly magical world where a moon can be suggested by a torch shining through a lace parasol as easily as by the blue spotlight. The action onstage and the story that unfolds do not run parallel; flashbacks, a framing plot and multiple perspectives serve to distort and destabilise the audience’s understanding of Ernest’s story as they are forced to patch it together. The seams of the play are allowed to show as the cast visibly create the always atmospheric and often gruesome sound effects, as well as playing the cello and accordion onstage, like macabre minstrels. This has the effect of simultaneously cranking up the dramatic tension and exposing how we can be manipulated by sound, creating a kind of double consciousness in the audience.
This show is endlessly inventive in the methods it uses in its storytelling. Such inventiveness can often be the downfall of Fringe shows, who seem to put innovation before plot or substance, but here there is no movement or sound that does not further the dramatic tension or add another layer to the story unfolding. On the way out I heard one woman suggest that, while incredibly well-done, the story itself lacked substance. I would suggest that one of its strengths is its deceptive simplicity, and that the methods by which the narrative is unveiled also provoke a lot of questions about the nature of perception and how stories are constructed,
This really is a tremendous show from a very confident and inventive young company, really setting the standard for what can be achieved within the restrictions of the Fringe. Tightly scripted, beautifully staged and inventively realised, this is a definite five star show.