Edinburgh Fringe 2011
Three American scientists sprint towards the goal of creating pain free surgery. Creating alliances with each other and falling out as each possible solution is tested and tried. The Penny Dreadfuls play it for laughs, gasps and giggles with aplomb, song and swing that sweeps you through the history and the science. This is a Fringe theatre piece that ticks most of the boxes.
The script has been put together with entertainment and vaudeville at its heart. I didn’t arrive with a fascination about science or this subject and by the end I wasn’t off to look into the history books to check the facts but in between I was enthralled. The performance zipped, and had all the elements of variety that work and do so well. Each of the actors had a variety of roles with each performing to a fantastic level of engagement. Denise Kennedy managed to give us her version of Horace Wells that was convincing and caricature all at the same time. Phillipe Spall kept it all together as narrator and foil whilst Dennis Herdman makes a fine looking woman – as well as a darn fine villain.
The environment was perfect. Under canvas with a set is a treat. The set was perfect and I must confess to having had my fill of bare stages and simple settings. When you see the Victoriana as backdrop, the costumes and the music hall approach it fits beautifully and well. The backdrop is but a springboard and the Penny Dreadfuls manage to use it to fantastic effect.
The production and the performances were Fringe Theatre at an edge. Not the edge of insanity but at the edge of your seat though some of their ideals are touched by insanely creative ideas. Bringing science into the theatre has been over the last few years a bit of a funding buzz but here is how it should be done. The facts are there but the theatrical way of performing it made it thoroughly entertaining.
The difficulty with the piece is that it may not have legs beyond the performances at the Fringe. I would love to see this on tour and playing to venues throughout the country but it would probably mean taking the circus tent with them. Whilst that would not be a bad idea and certainly be worthy the half full auditorium in which I saw the show would suggest it is without legs.
I laughed and I didn’t cry as the performers gave me great cause to be glad that theatre can be thoroughly entertaining and engaging in a topic about which I have little interest. To have created theatre that was of such joy was great to behold but again what held me back was where it would go. It doesn’t sit within the mainstream but it should because it was so good. that’s why it was my choice of that day.