Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh – until 29 August 2022
The disaffected son of a clergyman, Sir Paul Dukes ran away to Russia to work as a musician. While there, the Russian Revolution started and British intelligence recruited him to work as a secret agent. He was to smuggle prominent people and useful materials across the border to Finland, and otherwise do what spies do without getting himself killed. Reportedly a master of disguise, the so-called ‘man of a 100 faces’ is portrayed by the versatile and energetic Saul Boyer, though the story is so dense and frenetically told that it is difficult to keep track of the various subplots and characters.
Boyer, also the writer of the show, would benefit from dramaturgical streamlining of the text. A clear overarching climax would also help give the piece a clearer shape; at the moment the near misses and narrow escapes that come every few minutes eventually lose their impressiveness. As much as the chaotic spirit of the show effectively comes across particularly given the pace it’s delivered, there are so many madcap adventures that it’s difficult to retain them all or determine which is most important.
The same applies to characters, who are distinguished by different accents and voices. There are loads different people he meets and given the historical circumstances wherein most are not who they say they are, it’s hard to remember who is who, what side they are on, and their relationships with other people included in the show at any given moment.
That said, Boyer’s stamina and versatility are admirable. Dukes also makes a compelling subject for a piece of theatre. However, the even pace and energy and the thickly-written, high octane script need definition and nuance.