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Underground: A Forgotten World
Published on Wednesday, 26 August 2009

In the weird world of Underground, London's Tube stations are brought to life as characters in a darkly surreal drama. Piccadilly Circus is a dominatrix ring-master; the shadowy Seven Sisters compete for the favours of Victoria; and Morden, the most inspired name-choice of all, is cast as a Chandleresque private eye in the pay of the aristocratic Lady Rotherhithe.

Sadly, this promising concept doesn't translate to a riveting plot. The imagination's run a little too wild with this one; the panoply of ideas tended to clash rather than augment each other, in a script that at times lurched from costume drama to horror flick. Morden's original mission - to retrieve the stolen Charing Cross - is all but forgotten amidst a procession of ambulant trees, blood tithes, self-mutilated shepherds and monstrous sheep. I'm all for inventiveness, but in this particular case, less would surely have been more.

Still, for those geeky enough to have memorized the tube map (that's a big hello from me), there's a lot of gentle amusement to be had. Names of stations are dropped into the dialogue with genuine panache, triggering frequent snorts of laughter from those who were in the know. Yet the sparsity of those snorts highlighted the problem with bringing this play to Edinburgh; it depends hugely on local knowledge. Many in the audience will no more understand why it's funny to have a chalky farmer than a London crowd would get a joke about Craig, the miller.

The acting, though competent, was flat; many of the punchlines were thrown away, and overall it felt more like an early read-through than a polished production. One notable exception was Keyna Reynolds, who turned in a fine physical performance as the Sapling from Oakwood, and a fight scene between Rafael Fernec and Jonathan Sims was sickeningly realistic too. There was little room for character development in the crowded script, but Sims clearly had more to give as Morden.

What this play most needs, though, is to properly sell its underground milieu. The dim lighting at the beginning was a good start, but there was only one point in the middle which truly evoked the windy and winding tunnels of this surreal underworld; played more strongly, this could both lend the play a distinctive feel and complement the sinister undertone of much of the script. All in all, then, this was a disappoitment, but - with stronger production values and a tighter script - there might yet be treasure buried Underground.

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