The Devil in the Belfry

The Pleasance, Edinburgh

Neil Cooper

Four stars

There’s something strange going on in downtown Vondorvotteimittiss (geddit?) at the start of Dave Robb’s solo reimagining of Edgar Allan Poe’s nineteenth century short story, and the hyper-active chap in the vintage ragamuffin apparel carrying the violin wants us to know all about it. First of all, however, like any shyster on his soapbox, he wants to make sure he can be seen and heard. After bustling his way onto the stage, this necessitates him getting advice from the audience on where his best spot might be.

This is just a pre-cursor to the pop-eyed gentleman’s extended and increasingly fantastical recruitment drive for an army to rise up against the diabolical stranger lurking all too close to home, and who may or may not herald all manner of unruly elements into our midst. Our host is one Handel Fledermaus, a man with an unfeasibly small head who lost his parents in a major pig incident. His best friend Bernice has gone on the run, and the devil is doing a dance at the end of Handel’s telescope. What else to do but rally the seemingly willing troops.

Robb launches into all this with a rubber-faced relish that brings Poe’s yarn to life in a way that goes way beyond any notion of mere adaptation. At points, director Flavia D’Avilla has Robb launching himself at points among the audience, with some cheerfully co-opted to double up as Handel while he interrogates them.

This makes for an infectiously madcap sixty minutes in a welcome theatrical contribution to this year’s Cymera Festival of science-fiction, fantasy and horror writing. As ever with the most prophetic of literary forms, there’s a lot more going on behind the off-kilter world it depicts than might be immediately apparent. As Handel’s possibly crackpot cause becomes clear, this resistance to change by a solitary eccentric appealing to the popular vote looks like it might just have found its time.