The Dark Carnival, February 19 to March 2

Tramway, Glasgow, then touring until March 16

When I catch up with actor Elicia Daly she is close to death. Worry not, the performer (whose television work includes roles in Call the Midwife, EastEnders and Holby City) is not unwell. She is, in fact, in rehearsals for The Dark Carnival, the “pop opera” set among the denizens of a graveyard, which opens at Glasgow’s Tramway arts venue on Tuesday evening.

The show is a co-production between the acclaimed, Scottish touring theatre company Vanishing Point and Glasgow-based cabaret band A New International. It takes us into an underworld where, having discovered that death is not the end, the departed build themselves a raucous and rebellious “necropolitan” society.

What ensues is not quite what the poet William Blake called “the marriage of Heaven and Hell”. Rather, it as a dramatic conflict between those living in the subterranean abyss and a God who has spectacularly altered the rules of the game of life and death.

Live cabaret music, the unruly dead. It sounds like a cross between the musical theatre of the great, German collaborators Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht and the bleakly comic visual imagination of Tim Burton.

“Yes”, Daly agrees, “there’s definitely a cabaret element to it. It’s funny, but with an underlying sadness and beauty, and the imagery is beautiful.”

The promise of sumptuous visuals will come as no surprise to theatregoers who are familiar with Vanishing Point’s work. The company has a richly-deserved reputation for aesthetically imaginative productions, such as Lost Ones and Interiors, which have a European modernist sensibility.

The Europeanness and modernity of the company’s work might explain writer/director Matthew Lenton’s attraction to death as a subject. Just as modernism eschews the expectations of naturalistic consistency, death offers a platform for absolute speculative freedom.

That is certainly Daly’s experience in rehearsing the show. “Death, as a subject, gives you complete and utter scope to explore anything”, she says.

“With death there is no right or wrong, so all we can do is find an interesting story to tell. You can’t even say, ‘perhaps it’s going to be like this’, because there’s no way it’s going to be like that.

“It’s like sci-fi, it’s something we have no understanding of. You can go anywhere.”

The actor has worked with Lenton and Vanishing Point regularly over the years. She is impressed by the outcome of his collaboration with singer/songwriter Biff Smith of A New International.

“Biff is a great storyteller”, Daly enthuses. “He’s been working with Matt for such a long time that, I think, they’ve found a really good meeting point.

Inviting comparisons with Martyn Jacques of the Tiger Lillies (who Leith Theatre audiences saw in Karl Kraus’s The Last Days of Mankind back in November), Daly says, “Biff’s a complete frontman. He really embodies the songs.”

The songs he embodies are, the actor explains, beautifully varied. “There are some very beautiful, soft songs that are really moving. But there are also big band numbers where it goes a bit wild.”

She is impressed, too, by the scale of the production. Eight actors and eight musicians will be integrated in a show which will play on three of Scotland’s larger stages.

Following its run at Tramway, The Dark Carnival tours to the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh (March 6-9) and Dundee Rep (March 13-16). A smaller scale offshoot, entitled The Dark Carnival: Unplugged (in which Biff Smith will be joined by actor Robert Jack) will tour throughout Scotland in May.

From Lenton’s script, to the original music and designer Kenneth MacLeod’s set and costumes, Daly seems confident that The Dark Carnival is coming together nicely. “I hope it’s a really interesting piece for people”, she says.

“It’s fun, lively and colourful. There’s a lot to feast on”

For tour details, visit: