Inspired by two real-life Victorian spiritualist performers, The Infamous Brothers Davenport opens a box filled with magic and memory in this world premiere at the Lyceum, co-produced with Glasgow’s Vox Motus.
Written by Candice Edmunds, Jamie Harrison and Peter Arnott, and directed by Harrison and Edmunds, The Infamous Brothers Davenport is a showy and technically-complex production, but one which hides layers of emotion in its plot’s many hidden compartments.
Before the lights dim, Lady Noyes-Woodhull (Anita Vetesse) greets the ‘invited guests’ at tonight’s demonstration, inviting some onstage to examine the spiritualist apparatus for signs of trickery or subterfuge before the main event.
Ira and Willie Davenport (Scott Fletcher and Ryan Fletcher) are two young American brothers who, with the assistance of manager Mr Fay (Gavin Mitchell), turn the experiences of their past into a stage phenomenon: claiming to present the grief-stricken and the curious with evidence of life beyond the grave.
The piece opens with a humourous flourish, with Mitchell relishing the role of showman as he introduces the mysterious brothers. Stagecraft and magic techniques are used – with the help of a few willing audience members – to provide the ‘evidence’, sought no more strongly than by Lady Noyes-Woodhull herself, whose husband has been missing in Africa for years.
Soon, the magic disperses and the brothers’ ‘spirit box’ transforms into a stage within a stage, where Ira and Willie’s background is played out. Vetesse and Mitchell take on the roles of Mama and Papa, and we learn that the brothers’ most precious secrets are not the ones they use to create the effects in their act.
The Infamous Brothers Davenport is visibly the sum of its parts, and at times not all of them connect. The stage show reenactment is technically well-done and played in pastiche style, though this at times this jars with the human tragedy played out behind the box’s doors. In the second half, things come together with a little more cohesion, as the piece’s themes of truth and deception reach a satisfying climax.
Performances are excellent throughout, particularly from Scott Fletcher, who plays Willie with an innocent and otherworldly demeanour. Mitchell has the most fun, alternating between the exuberant showmanship of Mr Fay and the Bill The Butcher-style domineering of Papa Davenport.
Mention must also go to Harrison’s design and David Graham’s technical management: this is a production which relies heavily on more-than-usual amounts of stage magic to suspend the audience’s disbelief, and does so with flair.
Touring after this premiere, The Infamous Brothers Davenport is an ambitious production which mostly hits the magical mark it sets itself. And with its tale of hidden doors and hidden secrets, it shows that voices from beyond the grave echo into our lives whether you believe in spiritualism or not.
The Infamous Brothers Davenport runs at the Lyceum until 11 Feb. More details are on the Lyceum website.