The Dark Carnival @ Tramway, Glasgow

Vanishing Point’s undead anniversary bash with A New International showcases a wealth of incredible home-grown talent

Review by Ryan Hay | 25 Feb 2019
  • The Dark Carnival 3

The Dark Carnival is, first and foremost, a brilliant idea for a show. Conceived by writer and director Matthew Lenton, it explores elitism, the afterlife, mourning, ethics, and even ends in a sort of proletarian uprising, all in the form of a corpse cabaret-play with live music from A New International.

Performances are masterful across the board, particularly Ann Louise Ross as the playful, compassionate and austere Mrs Eugenia Mark, and Olivia Barrowclough as the idealistic and robust Little Annie, who haunts the land of the living and leads an uprising of the dead. Malcolm Cumming as Young John and Peter Kelly as Old Peter find a genuine chemistry and compassion that crosses the years dividing their characters since last they met.

The true standout, however, is Kenneth MacLeod’s design. The devil is the detail – the playful rhymes on headstones, the plastic halos of the joint-smoking angels, the gothic Royal Stewart tartan dress worn by Mrs Mark, and an evident sense of humour all make this design sing. Stunning lighting by Simon Wilkinson brings MacLeod’s set to life, and wonderfully interplays theatre and gig lighting aesthetics.

Unfortunately, it's this interplay that makes the ‘text’ fall flat. As is so often the case with gig theatre, the music from A New International is fun, but is just... there. It doesn’t tell us much about the story or characters, and it feels at times like the gig and the story aspects are pulling us away from each other. Yet while it may have too many songs, and the plot could have used restructuring, The Dark Carnival is a powerhouse of Scottish theatrical and musical talent. We defy anyone not to enjoy themselves at these performances.

The Dark Carnival @ Tramway, Glasgow, until 2 Mar; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 6-9 Mar; Dundee Rep, 13-16 Mar,

The Dark Carnival: Unplugged tours across Scotland, 13-21 May,