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FERGUS OF GALLOWAY
Directors: Nicholas Ellenbogen and David Scales
Cast: Daniel Richards, Sne Dladla, Jessica Munna, Jonathan Tait
Venue: Rosebank Theatre
Until: June 28
Rating:3 stars (out of 5)
Even audiences familiar with the wackiness that is Nicholas Ellenbogen’s signature style are likely to be left bemused as well as amused by this latest piece of whimsy from the innovative theatre-maker: a motley quartet of actors, a medieval plot featuring the usual trio of a hero, his lady and a villain (with diverse secondary characters such as a dwarf), as well as some eclectic accompanying music, create an evening of manic fun.
There is, however, a more serious undercurrent in this entertainment, since the four out-of-work actors are homeless and perform their hearts out in the hopes that their efforts will please a potential landlord (the owner of the shed in which they are squatting). The prefatory sequence leaves one in no doubt of the hardships attendant on needy and unsubsidised artists.
As an ensemble, this is excellent theatre, with well-matched executants. Personable Daniel Richards, as the heroic Fergus, has a strong presence without upstaging his fellow thespians; Jessica Munna convinces in the role of the lovely Galien; and Sne Dladla steals the show with his bright, beady stare and inexhaustible energy.
Multi-talented Jonathan Tait gravitates between roles as the Black Knight and a morose musician finding solace in the bottle. The cast’s prowess is generally superior to their vocal ability, although the latter is more than adequate for the show’s purpose.
It is not, however, the acting or singing which is memorable so much as the sheer ingenuity of the staging. Who but Ellenbogen would make so bold as to present a royal hunt in a forest in a space barely large enough to accommodate four actors and succeed? A simple paper curtain evoking trees and cunning lighting by Sean Whitehead is all it takes.
Then there is the character of the Dwarf (a sine qua non of medieval romance since Béroul’s Tristan and Iseult). The cliché of an actor shuffling along on shoe-adorned knees is avoided in favour of a puppet with Dladla’s face atop a screen – and the result is visually brilliant. Tambourines replace swords in the duel between hero and villain in another piece of inventiveness, complete with built-in sound effects.
There is no attempt at verisimilitude: every so often the actors quit or exchange roles with indifference and reality intrudes upon this medieval fantasy, especially at the end, when the quartet realise they have invested their all for nothing, as their targeted audience of one was absent. In this case, the dwindling troupe that once numbered 11 shrinks further and three move out to try their fortunes elsewhere. A poignant and thought-provoking finale that darkens the comedy.