Scotland reviews 27 items
The Dark Carnival at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
I said to the woman sitting beside me in the Traverse, we must have warped minds to want to see a production about dead people!

But there is much to commend having a warped mind. If I hadn’t I would have missed the best party ever to be held underground.

There’s a lot going on under the cemetery on Dickinson’s Brae. The undead dead enjoy death carousing - singing, dancing and drinking whisky, while above the ground one man still mourns for his lost love 60 years on.

We, the audience, are being inducted as necropolitans by convincing narrator Elicia Daly, who tells us there is life after death, and it isn’t so grim.

Through the imagination of Matthew Lenton, artistic director of internationally renowned theatre company Vanishing Point, who conceived, wrote and directed this production, The Dark Carnival is essentially a pop opera-cum-cabaret, with Scottish band A New International holding the whole thing together with Bertolt Brecht, Kurt Weill-type original songs written by its lead singer and compelling performer Biff Smith.

Kenneth MacLeod’s imaginative, Tim Burtonesque set is largely a tumble of coffins poking out of the earth; their inhabitants are a colourful mix: the matriarchal Mrs Mark in Edwardian tartan; Major Toast in full uniform; Little Annie, complete with gold baseball boots and teddy bear... And then there is the cigarette-smoking, gin-guzzling angel stuck in a heaven God has put up for rent.

Lenton’s rhyming dialogue is highly entertaining in a warped sort of way, while there are plenty of performances to keep us happy including Ann Louise Ross, a powerhouse as characterful Mrs Mark, and Harry Ward as Major Toast is the funniest, especially when he practices being a ghost.

The back-story, however, is the unrequited love between Young John, sensitively played by Malcolm Cumming, and Peter Kelly’s moving portrayal of the still living Peter, who visits John’s grave every day. It’s a poignant tale, in sharp contrast to the necropolitans’ knees-up, as is Little Annie’s untimely death. As the child, Olivia Barrowclough’s confusion and fear as she discovers what has happened to her tore my heart to shreds.

The Dark Carnival doesn’t go out on a high, however. It tells us that we should make the most of life… because death isn’t a death-long party!

The Dark Carnival is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh until March 9, and then at Dundee Rep Theatre from March 13-16
Photo: Mihaela Bodlovic