Edinburgh Festival Fringe theatre review: The Titanic Orchestra, reviewed by The Scotsman’s Susan Mansfield.
While the presence of John Hannah is ensuring that the tickets fly out of the box office, this play by Bulgarian Hristo Boytchev is neither an easy crowd-pleaser nor a celebrity vehicle. Hannah, while a dynamic presence, is at least as often absent, leaving the rest of Russell Bolam’s ensemble cast to carry the show.
Four tramps eke out an existence in an abandoned railway station, the dregs of a society which has left them behind: the failed station master, the failed musician, the failed bear-keeper. They gather up half-drunk bottles thrown out of passing trains, bicker and fail to escape the bleakness of their lives.
The arrival of an incomer (Hannah) disturbs their equilibrium. Conjuring banknotes from between his fingers and bottles of vodka out of coat sleeves, he convinces them he is great illusionist, Harry Houdini. Either he is the answer to all their problems, or he is conman, and as desperate as they. Hannah manages to keep us guessing throughout.
The Titanic Orchestra sits, not always comfortably, somewhere between heightened realism and something more symbolic, setting flashes of slapstick comedy next to moments of existential angst.
In the final quarter of the show, the philosophical overtones come to the fore – some would say too much so – building up to a bleakly funny Beckettian finish.
Boytchev’s play is destined to suffer in comparisons with Beckett, and it flirts with a kind of ennui which can feel, at times, like boredom. However, it remains a well-crafted piece of work realised by a strong cast which asks interesting questions about the nature of existence and the stuff of illusion – including the grand illusion of theatre itself.
Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) until 31 August / listings
Published in The Scotsman on 19 August 2015
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