C Venues – C (Venue 34), Edinburgh – 3-29 August 2016
Reviewer: Hugh Simpson
Life According To Saki, Atticist’s production upstairs at Adam House, is a wonderfully staged, hugely appealing production.
Saki (or Hector Hugh Monro, to give him his Sunday name) is one of those writers who has not remained widely known, without ever quite going away. With the centenary of his death in World War One approaching, there is a revival in interest in his work; his influence on Roald Dahl’s black-hearted whimsy is often cited. Indeed, the similarities between their work sometimes go beyond mere tribute – or even coincidence – as explored in an illuminating recent London Review of Books piece by Katherine Rundell, the writer of this play.
Rundell is probably best known for the lovely young person’s novel Rooftoppers. This will accordingly be regarded as children’s theatre, but has an appeal to the widest possible audience – although the more macabre elements could disturb those under nine. The odd nod to a young audience remains, primarily in a slightly worthy appeal to liberal open-mindedness and tolerance that might have surprised Monro, who was a reactionary Tory in many respects despite his sexual orientation.
Whatever informs this outstanding production – and the tradition of politically informed touring theatre comes to mind as much as anything else – its use of resources is endlessly creative. Puppetry, masks and projections all feature.
An impressive ensemble – Eddie Arnold, Ellen Francis, Tom Lambert, the consistently funny Phoebe Frances Brown and the magnificently versatile Caitlin Thorburn – play out the adaptations of Saki’s various stories. This is framed by David Paisley’s wonderfully gracious portrait of Monro in the trenches, where he enlisted despite being overage and refused all attempts to give him a commission.
Rundell’s script weaves Saki’s stories into an exploration of his life that is hugely fanciful yet always rooted in reality, and extremely funny but tinged with sad reflection.
Jessica Lazar’s direction is constantly inventive. The whole production is an object lesson in how to combine text, theatrical technique and the talents of the cast.
This is one of those productions whose length sits awkwardly somewhere between those just-under-an-hour Fringe shows and the full length that would require an interval. However, by removing or adding more Saki stories, you can imagine this being whatever length you chose.
The only story well enough known to demand inclusion is Sredni Vashtar. That’s the one where a sickly boy elevates his pet ferret into a god and asks it to take revenge on his guardian. If that sounds like your sort of thing, this is your kind of show. And even if it doesn’t appeal, you could easily still find this funny, involving and deeply human production thoroughly entertaining.
Running time: 1 hour 10 minutes
C venues – C (Venue 34), Adam House, 3 Chambers Street, EH1 1HR
Wednesday 3 – Monday 29 August 2016
Daily (not 15th) at 2.15 pm
Book tickets on the EdFringe website: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/life-according-to-saki
Company website: http://www.atticist.co.uk