By Jen McGregor
In Summerhall’s creaking Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Scottish band Dead Man’s Waltz sets out to explore the theme of death – or, as they put it, to undertake a “reconnaissance mission into the no man’s land where death borders with storytelling.” The show opens with a short film made up of gruesome death scenes from movies, setting up the expectation of some weird, unsettling and macabre things to come.
The reality falls short of the expectation. The band’s folk noir music is tuneful and well-executed, but the songs are a little too similar to create light and shade. The music doesn’t send shivers down the spine, despite the death-laden lyrics, but it’s pleasant to listen to, features some interesting instruments such as a tuba and a thumb piano, and would have made for an enjoyable gig on its own.
Unfortunately, the music accompanies a strange, self-indulgent film in which a man wanders naked through a rural landscape, tries in vain to write a story and sees some scary faces in a pond. At one point he lies, apparently dying, with what appears to be a phallus made of jelly on his chest. Upon close inspection this proves to be a lobster, which is just as baffling but somehow less interesting – at least a symbolic castration might have explained why the film was so underpowered.
The figure in the video turns out to be Hal Duncan, a writer who reads a couple of short stories from his iPad, underscored by the band. The stories are dark fairytales, one about a bereaved toymaker and the other a strange take on a school shooting. They are a little difficult to follow, not due to complexity in the material but to the delivery. There is little variety in pace or tone of voice, which makes it easy to tune out, especially if you are seated round to the sides of the auditorium where eye contact is in short supply.
The most interesting moments are those where the band members are destroyed on screen, first by being melted in wax then later by being hanged. At these points the show comes close to achieving some insight into or exploration of death and how we think about it. The images have some power to provoke a reaction, highlighting the finality of death by making us think about the mortality of the vital young musicians in front of us. If only there had been more of this and less of the elliptical story reading and naked rambling, Story’s End might have been a more engaging, thought-provoking show.