Out of the Blue, Edinburgh
In the week when moves to regulate Airbnb failed and it was decided to curtain Princess Street Gardens off during commercial gigs, Active Inquiry’s The Sideshow feels remarkably relevant.
This brilliant wee immersive production, which has been playing the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Leith, takes place in fictional Omawick, a small town on the edge of a bigger one which is facing being taken over by the annual fair which seems to be outstaying its welcome.
With its themes of gentrification, intrusive visitors, exploitative entrepreneurs, shady deals and the throwaway society, there’s plenty in Duncan Kidd’s often very-funny scrip to make direct links to Edinburgh and its Fringe, as well as the relationship between Leith and Edinburgh.
There’s even a scene where the assembled population of Omawick, who at this point are increasingly taking on the appearance and actions of the fair’s clowning troupe, shout out as one against the fair and its attempts to take the town over.
The cutting irony of such outcry against that which you have already assimilated, mirrors with remarkable accuracy the current heartfelt cries from some quarters against the Festival and Fringe.
And as in real life, the audience are right at the heart of it all, with Active Inquiry’s community company making a great job of the immersive environment, drawing their audience into the simple song at the foot of Oma, the statue which looks benignly over the town, or taking part in the fair’s attractions.
Lucy Hale keeps it all on track as narrator Ruby, who is taking the audience back to see just where it all went wrong for Omawick, while the music floating through the whole piece is sung and played by Megan Travers as Oma, the statue.
With so much going on, many of the characters are little more than brightly costumed caricatures, symbolic of their role in events. And there are plenty of well delivered performances to make it so.
In charge of the town and making sure its citizens do the right thing, Catie Lovers has quite the weather eye for her image as the brightly lipsticked Mayor, while Angie Main as her right-hand woman Dogsworth, prowls constantly round with her clipboard making sure that all the Rules are fully complied with.
Sporting bright purple coat and orange trousers, Ady Wilkinson adds an air of cartoon menace to fair master, Rum Col, who doesn’t just want to turn Omawick into a carnie supply town, but also to take Oma out on tour.
There is a little more character to get stuck in to for Joseph Travers as the town barber, The Hair, David Nicol as the town cobbler, Cobby, and Paul Hughes as Cobb’s his n’er-do-well brother and would-be enforcer, Bobby.
The cast of The Sideshow – at the Fair. Pic: Megan Davies
Their characters explore a sense of Omawick’s darker underbelly as well as something of what has been lost in the rush to accommodate the fair. An aspect which is added to by Brian Davies as cafe owner Gus and Gwen Currie as the mysterious Alice, who is returning to the town.
The fair scenes themselves allow for a quintet of aerialists from All of Nothing to take to the silks and hoops above stage, while there is strong support from Amy McVicar, Federico Bellucci and Rosa Alonso as a variety of chorus figures, whose presence helps support the smooth running of the immersive aspect to the show.
There is plenty to digest here, and these issues are not singular to either Leith or Edinburgh, but have a more universal resonance. Perhaps too much to digest, however, as it sweeps up so many aspects of the way that our towns become slaves to the tourist industry and big business that it is not able to achieve a great deal of depth.
However, The Sideshow bowls along excellently under Gavin Crichton’s free-wheeling direction; and Claire Halleran’s set and costumes both help tie it together and provide a bright, sparkly feel.
Well worth catching when it returns to Out of the Blue at the end of August.
Running time: One hour and 10 minutes (no interval)
Out of the Blue, 36 Dalmeny Street, Edinburgh EH6 8RG
Thurs 20 – Sat 22 June and Weds 21 – Sat 24 August 2019.
Evenings (not Fri 21 June): 7pm; Fri 21 only: 6pm and 8pm.
Further details of the August dates on the Active Inquiry facebook page: @activeinquiry1