An archive of arts writing by Neil Cooper.
Effete No Obstacle.
Sunday, 29 January 2012
The Infamous Brothers Davenport
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
The audience are not only on their feet but are onstage inspecting the
giant cabinet that dominates on entering this fiercely ambitious
collaboration between Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison's Vox Motus
company, playwright Peter Arnott and the Royal Lyceum. The conceit is a
piece of Victorian hokum, in which the two Davenports of the title, Ira
and Willie, conjure up spirits from within their cabinet under the
half-lit scrutiny of a 'scientific spiritualist society'. Introduced by
the grandiloquent Mr Fay under the watchful eye of the desperately
seeking Lady Noyes-Woodhull, Willie, the younger of the two, is
apparently possessed by his dead sister Katie as his spirit guide in a
seance. When Willie goes off message, however, truth becomes far
stranger than ghost stories.
As the spirit cabinet opens up, this reimagining of the real-life
Davenports story lays bare the roots of their act in a damaged,
bare-floorboards childhood, in which a hopped-up mother hallucinates
heaven while a brutal father abuses Katie to death. The psycho-sexual
scars are plain to see, particularly in Willie, as played by a
whey-faced Scott Fletcher opposite his brother Ryan as a more
practical, if perpetually perplexed Ira.
The first half-hour's box of vaudevillian tricks are but a
curtain-raiser to what follows in a big, technically complex piece of
Freudian expressionism, the very essence of which is about blind faith,
hope and the power of suggestion. Accompanied by Phamie Gow and Jed
Milroy's live piano and fiddle score, and with much emphasis on light
and shade, Vox Motus have created a spine-tinglingly serious treatise
on what the imagination might be capable of if we only let our demons