Velvet Evening Seance

Aug 27 2017 | By More

★★★★☆    Mesmerising

Assembly Hall (Venue 35): Thurs 3 – Mon 28 Aug 2017
Review by Dylan Taylor

High production values and a compelling narrative make Ross MacKay and Suzie Miller’s atmospheric Victorian mystery, Velvet Evening Séance, a suitably haunting experience.

James MacGregor, a young man on trial for the murder of his brother Thomas, is played by the captivating Scott Gilmour who carries the story effectively and brings a meditative weight to his plea that he is innocent.

Scott Gilmour. Pic: Richard Frew Photography

James’ addressing of the audience as jury is a clever conceit that brings a sense of realism to the play’s structure as he recounts his experiences from his childhood on.

He describes the difficult relationship with his austere minister father, his closeness with Thomas, and the two brothers’ eventual success as mediums. James describes how he came to feel that Thomas had betrayed him, but determines to make clear that it was not he who poisoned him.

Jim Harbourne’s subtle and expressive solo piano compositions perfectly set the suspenseful tone of the performance and build the feeling of tension underlying the narrative.

Becky Minto’s excellent wooden set, which resembles a scaffold, is central, too, to the play’s sustained hypnotic effect. The lighting, which includes the use of eerie candles, allows for some spooky shadows. At one point in the show, the drapery of part of the set’s frame suddenly drops, revealing some macabre scenery of its own. In keeping with the sparseness of the set, Gilmour gets an added use out of the dropped material, which doubles as a puppet to help tell the story.

unity to the aesthetic

This variety of storytelling techniques—the use of fingers, shadowy projections and drapes to represent people, for instance—adds a unity to the aesthetic of the play. It is told like a ghost story (in certain senses it is one), and is just as absorbing. Gilmour’s vocal impersonations of characters such as James’ father help contribute to the campfire atmosphere.

As engaging as the majority of the production is, there are moments in which it loses momentum, getting bogged down in small, sometimes insignificant details. It is not always obvious what the story is building up to, which in some cases plays to its strengths, but which at other times may make one wonder whether the emperor has no clothes. The ambiguity here acts as both a blessing and a curse.

MacKay and Miller’s collaboration with Freshly Squeezed Productions and The Uncertainty Principle is for the most part one which hits all the right notes. The combination of story, creative staging, and powerful acting leaves one with a delightfully vivid impression that remains after the stage’s final darkening.

Running Time: 1 hour 10 minutes
Assembly Hall, Mound Place, EH1 2LU (Venue 35)
Thursday 3 – Monday 28 August 2017
Daily: 4.30pm.
Tickets from the EdFringe ticketing site

Production Facebook page: @VelvetEveningSeance

Scott Gilmour on Becky Minto’s set. Pic: Richard Frew Photography


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