Gladstone’s Land, Edinburgh – until 26 August 2019
Guest reviewer: Amy Quinn
In A Game of Death and Chance, the National Trust for Scotland’s first ever Fringe show, four characters from the 17th century – and death himself – have occupied an old Edinburgh tenement to tell stories of Scotland’s past.
The building in question is Gladstone’s Land on the Lawnmarket in the heart of Edinburgh’s historic old town and one of the oldest buildings on the Royal Mile. The play is by Ben Harrison, co-artistic director of Edinburgh’s Grid Iron theatre company.
Co-directed by Harrison and Allie Winton Butler, A Game of Death and Chance is an interactive, site-specific show that allows audiences to see the struggles that Scotland and its people faced 400 years ago such as execution, starvation and ruined ambition.
The audience is led through the tenement building, followed by Death, meeting a different character in each perfectly decorated room. The designer, Karen Tennent and scenic artists, Megan Yeomans and Fiona Clark, haven’t missed a single detail of each room, making the set more atmospheric, impressive and creepy such as with fake bodies that momentarily alarm you.
Adding to the disturbing and dark atmosphere are the hypnotic songs performed by David Paul Jones that break up the dense storytelling and get stuck in your head with their haunting lyrics and powerful delivery.
The interactive and unexpected nature of this show is what really sets it apart from others. In each room, choices are presented to audience members – they might pick from a selection of teas or choose a card from a pack – and that choice influences which story the character tells.
This is effective as if keeps you on your toes and provides extra entertainment as members of the audience are joked with or mocked. Wendy Seager in the role of Caledonia is especially captivating with her desperate eye contact and cheeky demands of the audience that show her frustration and helplessness as she discusses Scotland’s political difficulties.
Every moment of this production is memorable and engaging, from the set design to the dialogue and it is easy to become oblivious to the outside world and become fully immersed in the gruesome 17th century life.
The interactive aspect could leave you feeling slightly left out as you are curious as to what the contents of the other stories were. However, this is made up for by how enjoyable and educational what you saw is.
You will certainly be humming a beautiful and catchy melancholy tune and looking at Edinburgh in a different, more appreciative way on your journey home.
Running time: 45 minutes (no interval)
Gladstone’s Land, 447b Lawnmarket, EH1 2NT (Venue 335)
Tuesday 16 July – Sunday 8 September 2019
Daily, not Monday: Various times
Tickets and details to Aug 26: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/game-of-death-and-chance
Tickets and details on NTS website: https://nts.cloudvenue.co.uk/agameofdeathandchance
Mary Gapinski as Lucky Lucy. Pic: Mihaela Bodlovic