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Virtuous Flock
Published on Friday, 13 August 2010

3 stars

C soco (venue website)
4-21 Aug, 1:20pm (2:10pm)
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

Sometimes at the Fringe, you really want to like a show; you really expect to like a show; looking back, afterwards, you feel sure you really must have liked the show.  But when you’re honest with yourself, you have to admit that it left you rather cold.  I’m sorry to say it, but Virtuous Flock was that kind of play: despite a great idea and some fine performances, it just didn’t take off for me.

To summarize brutally: to my mind, a promising plot was wrecked by too much playground humour.  Gags based on sex and farting are very difficult to pitch well, and in this case they distracted me from where the real funnies lay.

Make no mistake, though, there are some very funny moments here.   Drawing from the canon of gothic melodrama, Virtuous Flock neatly subverts the genre, conjuring up a love triangle – nay, a love quadrilateral – with a murder on each of its sides.  In a nice mix of the hilarious and the macabre, the victims revisit their killers and encourage them to continue the bloody spree.  And there are handful of laugh-aloud one-liners… albeit not always sold as well as they could be by the relatively inexperienced cast.

Still, it’s hard to find too much fault with the actors, who all take to their roles with relish.  I particularly liked Billy Barrett as (deep breath) Baron Frank Phillip James Winchester III: all floppy hair and jutting teeth, the undead aristocrat is a nicely-observed stereotype, and the prim way he climbs into and out of his coffin is a highlight all on its own.  He makes a fine double-act with his (also deceased) wife; and Poppy Zadek-Ewing seems born to play the highly-strung Marine, whose haughtily cattish life as a music-hall chanteuse is full of knowing parallels to the celebrity of our day.

The design’s great, too; the costumes are just right for the gothic milieu, and everything you see, even their award-winning poster, slots nicely into the theme.  The set’s well-done within the confines of a Fringe venue, and some striking visual moments are built into the action (I particularly liked the sight of the Baron being hauled from his coffin and symbolically looted of his inheritance).  The haunting use of the Coventry Carol creates an elegant soundscape to match the visual style.

Ultimately though, I was left with a sense of promise unfulfilled; I was all set for something clever and creepy, but what I got was simulated sex with a coffin.  There were plenty of giggles from the rest of the audience, so perhaps I’m simply a prude.  But whichever camp you’re in, it’s a credible Fringe debut from N10 Productions… and I’m sure there’ll be plenty more still to come.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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