FRINGE REVIEW – Carnival of Souls, Sample Theatre


1030-1130 7th -11th August @ Cameo Cinema

By Emily P

The air of the dark cinema is smoky with hazer, the small stage in front of the screen is set with old-fashioned room dividers while a reel of a turning carousel in jumpy black and white creates a magic lantern show effect upon it all. The atmosphere is tense with anticipation of what could be a terrific multimedia creation of mood and menace.

On the cinema screen a car speeds though a mid 20th century American roadscape and plunges off a bridge. In live action a single girl has apparently survived this accident to continue an existence of isolated and troubled living.

Most of the sparse dialogue takes place in her boarding house where she shrinks from the advances of her loser neighbour – who, unfortunately for the setting in the cinematic America of popular culture, has a Scottish accent.

Film, for the most part, acts either as the scenery – an enlarged wall paper design suggests the girl’s lonely room, at other times it advances what plot for example taking on the bulk of the nightmare sequences which are the girl’s affliction. The most effective use is when old film stock is used, providing a few instances where we are immersed in the isolated urban middle America of Film Noir and Horror. The popular imagery, settings and set-pieces of such thrillers – the boarding house, the detached psychiatrist, an abandoned pleasure pavilion and even organ music are all present and recognisably unsettling. The meeting of the two main characters too at first feels like a live action recreation of some film scene.

Two further figures emerge with light projecting from their chests to move through the auditorium and dance. The dancing nightmare phantoms and the layered film images add to the tone of what is obviously intended to be the central focus and purpose of this piece – the nightmares, or what we at first believe to be nightmares, of our heroine. But after the few moments when the show promises to be a Lynchian mindbender of surrealism – the dancing, just as the central relationship between the girl and her sleazy neighbour, do not take us anywhere more sinister than the Magic Roundabout. After their initial appearance it serves no more purpose than the cinema staging itself.

For when many theatre companies are able to use film and projection within the theatre and studio spaces all over the fringe it is hard to see why Cameo One, really too large for the show, was chosen in this case. When there is very little plot what remains can still be effective theatre – as mood and spectacle which this company have provided a few ideas on. But they have not really accomplished more than an undeveloped pitch of how one might go about creating a Carnival of Souls.

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