The Infamous Brothers Davenport
Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh
Until February 11;
then touring until February 25
Reviewed by Mark Brown
Glasgow-based theatre company Vox Motus have received deserved plaudits for their technically accomplished and visually impressive work; their 2010 Edinburgh Fringe hit show The Not-So-Fatal Death Of Grandpa Fredo was a particular triumph. Given the trajectory of their “visual narrative theatre”, it seems almost inevitable that they would be drawn towards the subject matter of their latest piece The Infamous Brothers Davenport.
The play – which was devised collectively by co-directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison with playwright Peter Arnott, and scripted by the latter – is based upon the true story of the titular American siblings, spiritualist illusionists who wowed audiences on both sides of the Atlantic in the latter half of the 19th-century.
The visual aspect of the Davenports’ act is well-suited to Vox Motus’s talents for illusion and special visual effects, and there are some fine visual tricks created in and around the brothers’ purpose-built “spirit cabinet”. Ironically, however, in unfolding and enfolding the narrative from and within his ingenious interpretation of the cabinet, Harrison (who also designs the production) has created a set which is as cumbersome as it is clever.
Like the script itself – which moves jaggedly between a Davenport public performance and the horribly abusive childhood which seems to have catapulted them to fame – the set is high on theatrics, but unsympathetic to the requirements of drama (two of the busiest people in the show are the stagehands who constantly lock and unlock, open and close the various doors and contraptions in and around the cabinet). The actors, led by neatly-cast brothers Ryan and Scott Fletcher, give strong performances across the piece, but – even for those audience members with a strong interest in the somewhat tired subject of spiritualism – one fears this production lacks the dramatic momentum which is the real magic of theatre.
For tour information visit: www.voxmotus.co.uk
This review was originally published in the Sunday Herald on January 29, 2012
© Mark Brown