Theatre review: Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard!, Underbelly, Bristo Square

Dandy Darkly has carved a niche for himself as a mesmerising storyteller of the macabre. Picture: Contributed
Dandy Darkly has carved a niche for himself as a mesmerising storyteller of the macabre. Picture: Contributed
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There’s no one quite like Dandy Darkly at the Fringe – or anywhere else.

Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard!, Underbelly, Bristo Square (Venue 302) ****

Over the past few years, this loquacious lyricist of phantasmagorical fripperies has carved a unique niche as a satirical storyteller. Working in the register of queer fantasy horror, he’s woven captivating tales of zombie porn stars, creative cavemen and resilient goddesses, all set to bespoke recorded soundtracks and delivered in fabulously accessorised Deep South clown-drag finery.

This year’s show, however, marks an ambitious departure: where previous hours have comprised separate stories grouped around a broad theme, Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard! approaches a single, multilayered narrative from multiple angles to dizzying, dazzling effect.

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The plot begins with young Darnell Johnson, aka Lil Biscuit, a black child in rural Georgia whose curiosity – about the diaphanous garments in mama’s closet and the strangely shrouded figures in the woods – will lead to peril and exposure in more ways than one.

As the tale unfolds, we meet a monstrous local bigwig, his peculiar twin sons, a creepy doll with its own TV show and a god on a mission to make amends. Darkly takes aim at racism, transphobia, social-media narcissism, economic precarity, biometric surveillance and electoral insanity. Through it all powers the Gaybird Steamer, a mythical train that drives the narrative on through the night.

It’s an enormous sweep and hugely to Darkly’s credit that All Aboard! feels like a cohesive and enveloping tale. So cinematic is the atmospheric scene-setting that you can almost imagine it as a movie or mini-series.

A screen version, however, would forfeit the mesmerising presence of Darkly’s direct address, a transporting, charismatic and psychedelic experience in which the passion for justice burns as strongly as delight in the macabre.

• Until 27 August, 11:10pm