The title and poster of Doctor Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions both suggested that this would be an hour of weirdness and wonder, exploring strange maladies and the practice of archaic medicine. Sadly, it doesn’t deliver. Instead, it’s a bland and somewhat confused offering, never quite making a decision about what it’s trying to be.
It’s a chamber opera, and the small orchestra plays very well. The three singers have lovely voices that blend together very nicely. It’s a shame that they don’t have a more memorable score to get to work on. The music shows occasional flashes of Turn of the Screw-style creepiness, but never fully commits to it. A pity, because there was great potential for this show to be a macabre treat. All the ingredients are there – an oddly-named doctor having a late-life, late night existential crisis, two slightly sinister nurses, a set that could place Dr Quimpugh anywhere in the 20th century.
However, the piece was sadly lacking in atmosphere – possibly due in part to technical hitches which meant that only part of the lighting rig was working, but it would have taken more than clever lighting to turn this into a compelling hour. For no apparent reason, the highly successful Doctor Quimpugh feels despondent about what he has done with his life so the two nurses start acting out scenes from his case notes. Maybe these moments were meant to have been very important ones in the Doctor’s life, but they all lacked the depth necessary to pack an emotional punch. Instead, they were simply fleeting glances of illnesses which were not all that strange, the effects of which never seemed to tell on the Doctor. Mad parents and a dead lover were met with equal nonchalance and nothing seemed to contribute to any kind of character or plot development. The scenes which attempted humour fell flat, unable to recover from the dramatic inertia that had already set in.
There is plenty of room for development, but first this opera needs to figure out what story it is trying to tell and commit to it.
Petersham Playhouse, Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions is on at Summerhall 3 – 26 August, 2012 (not 7, 14, 21 August) at 1700.
Tickets are available via Summerhall.