Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Star rating: ****

The big question was always going to be whether the Traverse Theatre’s starry collaboration between playwright Marc Ravenhill and singer Marc Almond would actually succeed as a true piece of theatre. It’s essentially a staged song cycle, with music by Conor Mitchell and designs and direction by Stewart Laing, using just piano and Almond’s soaring voice to chart a man’s survival in a time of plague – notionally 17th-century London, although references are general enough for a contemporary reading.

He encounters suspicion when a butcher refuses to take money he has touched; he is shocked then grateful when his lover refuses to kiss him for fear of passing on the disease; and he buys a wig after shaving his head in an effort to prevent infection.

Allusions to AIDS are clear – most explicitly when the protagonist’s modern-day male love lifts his shirt to reveal the marks of his contagion. Sex and death are everywhere, melded in Almond’s decadent yet focused performance. After a slightly hesitant start, he commands the stage, fixing the audience with an impudent stare and daring us to look away.

Composer Mitchell’s writing for his voice is bold and challenging, with angular, often atonal melodies whose expressiveness nevertheless provides an ideal vehicle for Almond’s passionate tenor voice, and glorious vibrato. Some of his piercing floated tones are truly spine-tingling.

Admittedly, it’s not an easy work: with its dense, sometimes oblique words set to challenging, Britten-esque music, and its all-pervasive seriousness, the piece makes significant demands on its audience. But such is the focus and passion of the two performers that they take us with them through every note.

A moving filmed conclusion sees a ghostly Almond crossing today’s London Bridge, and a final coup de theatre, breathtaking in its simplicity, reaffirms the true theatrical credentials of this praiseworthy project.
Ten Plagues, Traverse Theatre, until 28 August (not 15), times vary

Photo by RIchard Campbell

6 COMMENTS

  1. Your reviewer must have been sleeping; this is tuneless, rudderless drivel that exposes Almond’s weak voice and wooden stage presence. The score is dire – rambling and inconsequential – and the background film is cheap and silly. I saw it saturday when several people left and there was booing at the final curtain.

  2. I saw the show twice, it’s amazing. Marc Almond’s voice is far from weak, l don’t know a lot of his work, but he can really sing and hold an audience. Its the best bit of theatre l have seen in a long time.

    Well done to the team behind this.

  3. I was also there on Saturday. I dodn’ see anyone leave and one very rude man in the row behind us booed. It was an odd show and I’m not sure if it entirely worked but you can’t doubt the talent of Marc Almond and the effort he put into it. His voice is incredible but I think it was a show in search of a tune…

  4. this show is certainly different, but that’s one of its attraction. Its atmospheric, spooky in parts, and gells so well with the city its playing in with its looming history. Marc almond proves himself worthy of the part, his voice and dramatic expression is refreshing and exciting. If this piece isn’t your taste fair enough, but its quality shines. When we saw it we enjoyed it, as did the rest of the audience.

  5. This is an incredible show. The text is superbly interpreted by Marc Almond whom it seems was born to play this role. It was engaging, uncomfortable, moving and (very) occasionally humorous. I saw a few shows this year at the Fringe (mostly comedy) but this topped them all. Outstanding work and very much appreciated by the audience.

Comments are closed.