Musical review: Beulah, C Nova (Venue 145), Edinburgh

Otherworldly harmonies help us imagine the impossible in Beulah
Otherworldly harmonies help us imagine the impossible in Beulah
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“Opening into Beulah, every angle is a lovely heaven,” wrote William Blake in his poem Jerusalem. A land, somewhere between dreams and reality, life and death, it is the inspiration for Alexander Wright’s hauntingly sad, chillingly beautiful musical two-hander.


C Nova (Venue 145)

Star rating: * * * * *

As the writer of Belt Up’s similarly moving The Boy James (also on at this year’s festival), Wright demonstrated a seemingly effortless ability to throw together words filled with poetry and truth, bringing a tear to the eye and jolt of electricity to the heart.

Here, as part of The Flanagan Collective, he does the same again, and it is made all the more powerful by the addition of music written and performed by Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren, who play guitar, accordion, harp and pretty much any instrument you can think of, as well as all the characters.

Their laid-back manner is as charming as it is deceptive, with amiable banter and offers to “have a go” on a penny whistle before the show starts a stark contrast to the sophisticated multilayered piece of storytelling that follows.

The story is based around the following facts: that we will live for an average of 80 years, that we measure our lives in birthdays, that we will spend around 23.3 years asleep. And, in a continuation of the above logic: that being born on 
29 February 1988, a leap year, will mean that your 80th birthday will be on 29 February 2308.

This is less of a bonus and more of a curse for a man who finds himself outliving his wife by hundreds of years and spending more and more time in Beulah, as he sleeps or daydreams, trying to find her.

Harbourne and Wren’s soaring compositions – with inspiration ranging from folk ballads to Sigur Rós – are given further depth by their surprisingly lovely singing voices, which create the kind of otherworldly harmonies perfectly suited to a piece that encourages us defy conventional logic and imagine the impossible.

There are more colours in the world than we can ever see, we are told – and in this small, unassuming room they are brought to life by a musical that is strikingly profound, particularly for a genre so often associated with the frivolous.

• Until 27 August. Today 5:15pm.