Theatre review: Montmorency, C (Venue 34), Edinburgh

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CHRIS Snow, who both directs and has adapted this ambitious stage version of Eleanor Updale’s award-winning children’s novel, doesn’t make things easy for himself.

Montmorency

C (Venue 34)

Star rating: * * *

The title role of the Victorian convict from the London slums who learns to pass himself off as a gent is demanding enough, but that’s not the problem.

Matthew Hopkinson handles it assuredly at all stages, from being the prize patient of a pioneering surgeon to a subsequent double life as both a burglar exploiting the new sewer network and a fake toff finding out which houses to burgle in the first place.

The play’s central difficulty is in the role of Freakshow, the mad, crippled cellmate who is Montmorency’s prison tutor in the arts of aping the haute bourgeoisie. James Blake-Butler gives it his all, but this is a role that would challenge even an Anthony Hopkins. While Snow is clearly concerned to establish a parallel between Freakshow’s own fractured self and Montmorency’s double identity, it doesn’t quite come off.

That said, this play – from Reading-based FreeRange Productions – has much to commend it. Snow’s production is fluent, energetic, and brilliantly staged, with a set that works as a sewer, a prison cell, lodging house, lecture theatre and gentleman’s club.

This is a young theatre company – all but one of its members are aged between 16 and 20 – staging three shows a day on its Edinburgh debut. It is heartening to see such talent – and on this evidence we’ll be seeing a lot more of them.

• Until 27 August. Today 7:25pm.