A second night of Horror

Oct 30 2023 | By More

The Devil in the Belfry: ★★★★☆     Turbo charged

Tarmac Lullaby: ★★★☆☆     Twisted

Banshee Labyrinth: Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Review by Thom Dibdin

A second night at the Edinburgh Horror Festival reveals more supernatural goings on, this time in the Cinema Room with the new Tarmac Lullaby from Crested Fools and a returning piece The Devil in the Belfry from Brassica Theatre.

The two pieces, both solo shows, have very distinct voices but each is a huge success on its own terms. Daniel Orejon’s portmanteau of tales twists and turns in Erin Elkin’s skilful performance of Tarmac Lullaby, while Dave Robb has no less skill in a turbo-charged vision of Poe’s The Devil in the Belfry.

Erin Elkin in Tarmac Lullaby. Pic: Thom Dibdin.

In Tarmac Lullaby, Elkin proves that you don’t need much in the way of props or a set if the performance is good enough. She has a notebook and pen for props, a small table on which she sits, as if on a shopping precinct bench, for a set. That is enough for her to bring out this intricately layered set of stories.

The conceit is that she is sitting on the bench, writing stories in her notebook, when an old colleague from teaching at primary school happens by. Known for the stories she told the P5s, to quieten them down after break, which the colleague also lapped up, she is now weaving a different set of tales, with which she proceeds to regale her initially willing listener.

At first these stories are classically macabre, on a strongly urban gothic tip. A newborn child who weeps blood that only their mother can see; a late night office worker who can’t find the source of the tap-tap-tapping until she looks up; a mother who seems umbilically attached to her TV screen; a ghost who inhabits a woman’s car and seeps into the mind of anyone taking the driving seat…

jewels of storytelling

They are shimmering little jewels of storytelling. Some horrifyingly scary, others with laugh-out-loud punchlines, yet others are intriguingly mystifying. However, as they go on, that fog of mystery begins to clear and an overarching tale begins to emerge.

So much is pretty much nailed in Orejon’ script. There’s maybe just a shade too much hinting, so the ultimate destination is not quite as clear as it might be – and therefore not as chilling as it could be. But the variety of tones displayed and Elkin’s delivery of the tales is absolutely spot on. Proof of the skills of both performer and director.

The conceit itself is marginally less successful. Here Orejon needs perfect naturalism, which he doesn’t quite get, despite a laudable understanding of Edinburgh’s primary school structure. Consequently, Elkin is left a little distanced from this material. But as a first outing this counts as a huge success, for a show which will undoubtedly be honed over time.

Dave Robb in The Devil in the Belfry. Pic: Chris Scott.

Time is what the wandering protagonist Handel Fledermaus doesn’t have, in the adaptation of Poe’s The Devil in the Belfry, as he seeks to recruit an army of supporters to his cause of the defence of his tiny, land-locked country of Vondervotteimittiss, where the clock is sacred and the cabbage is king.

But it is what adapter and performer Dave Robb and director Flavia D’Avila, now working as Brassica Productions, have made the most of since this hilarious, semi-immersive production was first seen as a scratch performance at the inaugural Edinburgh Horror Festival in 2016.

Finely tuned and beautifully weighted, Robb’s telling starts as pure storytelling, with the new character of Fledermaus addressing the audience directly. But it soon develops immersive tentacles as he introduces various inhabitants of Vondervotteimittiss – also new but often based on hints in Poe’s original.

With nothing much more than a fiddle and bow, a hatstand, a capacious overcoat and an immense array of facial expressions, Robb builds on Poe’s central story of the devil appearing over the hill one day and chaotically invading the punctilious and parochial country; adding macabre and chilling details.

fleshed out

Looking back at Poe’s original, this is almost a completely new story. Fledermaus is the town lookout whose parents were eaten alive by pigs. The tale is fleshed out with various characters and ideas drawn, no doubt, from elsewhere in Poe: an ancient councillor, a blacksmith, a girl who arrived over the hills on a moon-coloured horse, a devil at first invisible to the townsfolk, all add depth to the telling.

But the idea of death by pig, or indeed the jeopardy of the girl on the hill, are not the real chills here, no matter how snuggly they fit into the tale. It is the hatred of the other, the insularity of Vondervotteimittiss, with which Robb succeeds in infecting his audience, so he has them on their feet, shouting out against the outsider.

Of course it is all a bit of fun: entertaining comedy horror, with a happy audience joining in with pint in hand. On a deeper level, however, it is the chilling bite of real horror: the idea of what you could so easily become, given the right leader with the right story.

The Edinburgh Horror Festival continues until Tuesday 31 October 2023.

Tarrmac Lullaby
Running time: 55 minutes.
The Banshee Labyrinth, Cinema Room 29-35 Niddry St, Edinburgh EH1 1LG
Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Evenings: 7.55pm.
Tickets and details: Book here.

The Devil in the Belfry
Running time: One hour.
The Banshee Labyrinth, Cinema Room 29-35 Niddry St, Edinburgh EH1 1LG
Thurs 26 – Sun 29 Oct 2023
Evenings: 9.10pm
Tickets and details: Book here.


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