Brief Candle

Aug 20 2023 | By More

★★☆☆☆     Fllickering

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53): Mon 14 – Sat 26 Aug 2023
Review by Hugh Simpson

Brief Candle, from Blushing Caligula at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, is not the first play to take inspiration for its title from Macbeth. Unfortunately, its attempts at tragic grandeur do not match up to such a reference.

After the construction of the South Bridge, the vaults underneath became the home of the poorest and most dispossessed members of society, many of them migrants from the Highlands or Ireland. The Great Fire of Edinburgh in 1824 officially killed 13, but that total did not include those living illegally in the dark and damp.

Emma Ford in Brief Candle. Pic Blushing Caligula

There is probably a very interesting play to be written about this. Unfortunately, Brief Candle is not always that play. A one-hander, it focuses on 15-year-old Isla Kerr, and her attempts to buy a candle for her mother’s birthday while the fire rages above.

It is a strange script by David R. Ford, mixing sprightly narrative, horror and sentiment. It has considerable energy, but is episodic and lopsided, crammed too full of incident and characters. As a result, it feels both melodramatic and rushed, with Edoardo Bento’s direction tending to the breathless.

This is all redeemed to a degree by the ending, which is both careful and poignant. Clever use is also made of local colour, with the play being set yards from where it is performed, with the venue itself getting a namecheck.

modern parallels

There are some obvious modern parallels in the explorations of the treatment of migrants and the inadequacy of new technologies in the face of environmental collapse. These are made less subtle by several anachronistic discussions of ‘capitalism’, which – like the odd use of decidedly modern idioms – dissipates the (otherwise carefully built up) period atmosphere.

The most notable feature of the production is the performance of Emma Ford, whose presence and commitment are decidedly impressive. Different characters are skilfully evoked, while elegantly gaining the audience’s sympathy for the voiceless inhabitants of 1820s Cowgate. She copes well with the demanding and rather hurried nature of the narrative. She also manages to overcome a noisy cooling system, which cannot always be said for the carefully considered sound design.

The performance goes a long way to ironing out the creases in a production that frustrates as much as it enthrals.

Running time 50 minutes (no interval)
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Theatre 3), Nicolson St, EH8 9DW (Venue 53)
Monday 14 – Saturday 26 August 2023
Daily (not 20) at 9.20 pm
Tickets and details: Book here.

Blushing Caligula links

Instagram: @blushing_caligula_theatre

Twitter: @BlushCaligTheat

Emma Ford in Brief Candle. Pic Blushing Caligula



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