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Magnus Volk's Electric Train of Thought
Published on Monday, 30 May 2011

4 stars

The Hendrick's Horseless Carriage of Curiosities (venue website)
20-30 May, 12:00pm-12:30pm, 1:00pm-1:30pm, 2:00pm-2:30pm, 3:00pm-3:30pm, 4:00pm-4:30pm, 5:00pm-5:30pm, 6:00pm-6:30pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Parental Guidance. Under-17's must be accompanied by an adult.

Here's a short and sweet review for a short, sweet play.  For 20 fascinating minutes in the equally fascinating Carriage of Curiosities, Victorian engineer Magnus Volk regales us with his vision of an electric future - and we share his excitement at this new form of power, in those heady days after the advent of the light bulb.

Armed with a promotional glass of A Certain Brand Of Gin (an incongruity which wisely, the script makes no attempt whatever to justify), we're welcomed with enthusiasm into Volk's ramshackle workshop. Filled with memorabilia of glories gone by, it's a clever use of the magpie collection of oddball bits and pieces which make up the Horseless Carriage - which when Volk isn't in residence, reverts to its role as a travelling advert for Hendricks'. There are perhaps too many distractions, though, to make it really work for theatre; when we were invited to look at some photographs, for example, I couldn't take my eyes off the unrelated book sitting right behind them, which opened and closed all by itself.

Volk himself, though, held my attention throughout his monologue, which ranged from the familiar (surely everyone in Brighton's had a go on the electric railway?) to the oddly prescient (new ways of harvesting energy, and an electric car for the Sultan of Turkey).  There's a touching sense of a man born too early, frustrated by a world which isn't ready for his profusion of ideas. And his fixation, of course, comes at a cost, exhibited vividly when his son approaches the carriage window.

There's an extra piquancy to all this, for Volk's latest plan - the one we're notionally there to approve - is manifestly harebrained. He's built a second electric train, this time running through the sea; we join the action as a storm sweeps the whole thing away, and I can't help feeling it's a blessing. But I left with a renewed appreciation for this forward-thinking pioneer - and a tingle of excitement at the dawning of the electric age. As the Fringe draws to its close, it's worth the quick detour to the Carriage for one last, sharp show.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2011.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.