Theatre review: Dark Carnival Unplugged, Paisley Arts Centre

When Vanishing Point’s Dark Carnival opened at Tramway in February, it was both acclaimed and loved for its mixture of macabre humour, true pathos, and songs worthy of any low-down whisky bar in the Weimar Republic.

The Dark Carnival: Unplugged
The Dark Carnival: Unplugged

Dark Carnival Unplugged, Paisley Arts Centre ***

Set underground in Dickson’s Brae cemetery, somewhere in Scotland, the show welcomes its audience to the ranks of the recently dead, the ‘’necropolitans’ who gather nightly underground to tell tales, drink whisky, and enjoy some rowdy songs.

And although this new pocket-sized touring version has lost almost all of its cabaret band, and most of its characters (who now appear only as family photos propped up

on a handy coffin), what it

loses in scale it gains in wisdom, intimacy and narrative clarity, as actor Robert Jack and musician-performer-composer Biff Smith lead us with terrific charm and geniality through a short 85-minute version of Matthew Lenton’s hallucinatory graveside vision.

It’s difficult to say why audiences so much enjoy the idea of enjoying a slice of the afterlife with Lenton’s motley crew of characters, who include a local lady of means called Mrs Mark, and a young man called John who died in prison after being arrested for homosexuality in the 1950s.

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The show’s free tot of whisky helps, though, as do Smith’s brilliant songs; and with Robert Jack turning in a quiet barnstormer of a performance as our ferryman, guide and narrator, this warm-hearted yet sometimes hard-edged reflection on life, death and eternity seems set to delight audiences up and down Scotland, as it continues its tour of local community halls and arts centres, across the land. - Joyce McMillan

At Latheron, Dunoon and Cairndow this week, and on tour until 1 June.