Life may be a cabaret, but death? In Mexico or New Orleans, yes, the carnival of the title, but underneath a Glasgow cemetery?
That’s where the audience are welcomed, as new arrivals to a strange netherworld, a limbo perhaps, where lost souls rest and reflect, or drink and dance eternity away.
We’re welcomed by the house band – a (re)incarnation of A New International, the troupe formed from the ashes of The Starlets, and led by the charismatic Biff Smith. Always an entertaining frontman, the singer puts his heart and soul fully into a dramatic performance which sees the eight-piece band deliver a full set of catchy vaudevillian tunes. Brecht and Weill are channeled while brass drives the funereal stomp and Caroline Evans offers plaintive backing vocals and violin.
It’s an unusual setting for the band – not just six feet under and surrounded by coffins, but the split-tiered stage, which sees separate performances above the surface, as the non-dead (as opposed to the undead) go about their business – funeral attendees, gravediggers, paranormalists and angels, all framed in an upper platform that is a triumph of theatre company Vanishing Point’s stage design.
However, the play’s the thing, and while many of us are there primarily to hear new material from the band, the story ties music and set together nicely – our narrator / gatekeeper relating, in rhyme, the afterlife process. It transpires, in a nod to modern politics, that heaven is full, hence this underground holding area, while several stories play out including a love affair’s unworldly rekindling after 50 years, the protagonists persecuted for their gay relationship in (slightly) less liberal times.
The threads are tied together by, loosely, the lesson that we need to make the most of our time on earth, but unlike ghosthunter Gary, we’re not expecting any of life’s mysteries to be revealed. Instead, the audience can revel in The Dark Carnival’s sheer entertainment value, and go home with a tune in their head and a spring in their step.
The Dark Carnival runs:
22 February – 2 March: Citizens Theatre at Tramway, Glasgow
6 – 9 March: Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
13 – 16 March: Rep Theatre, Dundee
More at http://anewinternational.com