Trailblaze Theatre are everything that a young company bringing a show to Edinburgh should be. They’re bright, sparky, enthusiastic and attractive, and if A Dirty Martini is anything to go by, they’re full of potential. Some of that potential is realised. Some of it is not.
A Dirty Martini works like a Choose Your Own Adventure story for the stage. Evelyn Waugh is writing a new novel and we, the audience, will make the choices that move the story along. There are apparently 64 possible versions of the show. It’s an ingenious format, sometimes asking us to vote for our preferred option or sometimes simply to shout out. The moments of decision-making don’t feel like token audience interactions, they feel like they genuinely affect the plot.
The action follows Holly, aspiring Bright Young Thing, as she attempts to find a foothold in the world of the rich and famous. There’s plenty of vigour and ragtime spirit on display – a little too much, perhaps, since I eventually found myself feeling like the only sober person at the party, wishing everyone else would just stop shrieking and cackling. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a feeling that could be used to capture the down side of the jazz age, which is certainly something this production sets out to do.
Unfortunately, the characters don’t have sufficient depth to realise this aim completely. Yes, they’re meant to be a vacuous bunch, but in order for us to invest emotionally we need to see what matters to them, even if it’s only their own fame and selfish pleasures. Without this, the potentially shocking ending feels unearned and loses its bite. If nothing feels truly at stake, the world of the characters feels closer to Wodehouse than Waugh. Finding a little more desperation in the characters would turn this into an edgier play.
The scale and ambition of this piece bodes well for Trailblaze’s future. The group clearly has vision and they’re highly capable performers (particularly Jonathon Craze as Waugh, who spent most of the performance tucked away behind his typewriter but whose engagement with the action never wavered, and Katie Grace Cooper, who brought intriguing hidden depths to predatory lesbian Harriet). This is immersive and interactive theatre in a somewhat rough and ready form, but it’s very entertaining and the company is charismatic enough to gloss over many of the flaws in the writing and the necessarily fringey production values. A proper budget, longer time slot and judicious rewriting could turn this from a pleasant hour into a real treat.