Theatre reviews: Beneath The Dust, Dumfries | The Rocky Horror Show, Playhouse, Edinburgh | Prism, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Tara Fitzgerald and Robert Lindsay are both vulnerable and moving
Tara Fitzgerald and Robert Lindsay are both vulnerable and moving
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SOMEWHERE in Dumfries town centre, there stands a house that, for many years and even centuries, was something of a mystery to local residents; perhaps the headquarters of some secret society that wished to remain unknown. So when we gather at the doorstep on a dark and moonless Hallowe’en, surrounded by flaming torches and hooded attendants, the scene is already set for an unusually powerful show for the season of ghouls and ghosties; and once we file inside, five by five, things only become more tense and uncanny, as we are initiated and led into – well, into what kind of gathering, or what manner of gorgeously gilded dinner?

Beneath The Dust, Dumfries **** | The Rocky Horror Show, Playhouse, Edinburgh ****| Prism, King’s Theatre, Edinburgh ****

Hollyoaks' Duncan James is terrific as Rocky Horror's Frank

Hollyoaks' Duncan James is terrific as Rocky Horror's Frank

To give away too much about Beneath The Dust would spoil the fun, of course; but thoughts of freemasonry and other kinds of secret association flit freely through the mind – along with memories of how local Dumfries hero Robert Burns was also drawn to such secret gatherings – before events take a much darker turn, one that also raises some horrifying echoes from local history and folklore.

Put together by locally-based company Bunbury Banter, with top-flight partners Grid Iron and Surge, Beneath The Dust features an intense and interesting script devised by director Ali Anderson-Dyer with the company, along with fine design by Claire Halleran; it also makes fine use of the combined talents of a ten-strong community cast, and five professional actors, led by Carmille Marmie as the host, David James Kirkwood as her assistant and Mark McDonnell as the butcher in the basement.

And if the evening ends slightly abruptly, after an hour or so, with the audience thrust out into the night for their own safety – well, what other ending would work so well, in this classic piece of home-made Hallowe’en horror, for one of Scotland’s most interesting and haunted towns?

There’s also a suitably ghoulish Hallowe’en atmosphere at the Playhouse in Edinburgh this week, as the current touring version of Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show hits town, with its famous invitation to audience members to dress up and camp it up, just like the cast.

First seen in London more than 45 years ago, the show is the cult success par excellence, so beloved by its fans that they happily chant whole chunks of dialogue along with the cast, and fill in any pauses left by this production’s supremely arch narrator Philip Franks, who combines smoking-jacket suaveness with the jolly and wholly appropriate suggestion that he is, in fact, ready for anything. As a fierce send-up both of conventional morality and of the whole world of science-fiction B-movies, The Rocky Horror Show has plenty of life in it yet; and with Hollyoaks star Duncan James delivering a spectacular central performance as Frank, this most recent version amply meets fans’ expectations – and then some.

If you’ve had enough of Hallowe’en, though – and fancy an evening of traditional English theatre at its thoughtful best – then head for the King’s in Edinburgh, where Robert Lindsay delivers a profoundly moving central performance in Terry Johnson’s 2017 play Prism, about the old age of the brilliant British director and lighting cameraman Jack Cardiff, the man behind the cinematography of The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, and the mighty African Queen, among many other legendary films.

In this version of his life, Cardiff is already suffering from dementia, often barely recognising his son Mason or his devoted wife Nicky, never mind his vulnerable new carer, Lucy. Struggling in the garage-turned-workroom of his Denham home to write the book Mason thinks will preserve his legacy, he often retreats into a world of memory beautifully realised in Johnson’s visually stunning production, while the three other cast members – Tara Fitzgerald, Victoria Blunt and Oliver Hembrough – effortlessly morph into the Hepburns, Bogarts and Monroes of his remarkable past.

Cardiff’s greatest moments of remaining clarity, though, come when he is talking about his craft, and about the obsession with light – and how to use and capture it – that drove his astonishing career. And although Lindsay handles the comic-old-buffer aspects of the role with great skill, it’s in these moments of lyricism that he truly excels; particularly when, towards the end, be shows how the power of imagination can trump an increasingly grim reality, and keep beauty alive, even in a mind fading towards extinction.

JOYCE MCMILLAN

Beneath The Dust is at a secret location in Dumfries, with final performances this evening, 2 November. The Rocky Horror Show and Prism both have final performances today, 2 November