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Dark Deeds

4 starsReviewed by Richard Stamp
The Old Clubhouse
Run ended

A new collaboration between singer Patricia Hartshorne and pianist Peter Dobson, musical cabaret show Dark Deeds does indeed go to some pretty dark places. There’s humorous gore – I spent most of the show trying to ignore a disembodied hand sitting on my table – but there’s real horror too, particularly when the duo turn to some chilling episodes from the history of the twentieth century. It all adds up to a show that’s disturbing and perplexing, but oddly thrilling as well.

Hartshorne’s character is an intriguing creation.  Dressed in frilly skirt, fishnet stockings and… er… paratrooper boots, she claims to hail from a rougher part of Manchester – hence the knife in her waistband and the gun in her hand.  She plays it for laughs of course, and although I thought the patter between songs went on too long, I quickly warmed to her idiosyncratic persona.  There was one particular anecdote about a technical catastrophe at the Edinburgh Fringe which she told so vividly I almost felt that I remembered being there.

A highlight for me was a bravura recital of The Green Eye Of The Yellow God (“There’s a one-eyed yellow idol to the north of Kathmandu”), accompanied by background music composed by Dobson.  As she declaimed the poem, Hartshorne had the confidence to really over-do it – surely the only way to tackle such a melodramatic piece of writing – while Dobson’s playing lent a new dimension to what, for me, are over-familiar words.  And lending extra meaning to old standards proved a theme of the show.  A chilling version of Mack The Knife reminded me not just how unpleasant the lyrics actually are, but of the historic context in which they were written.

It was here, with an uncompromising evocation of the Nazi period, that Dark Deeds turned pitch-black.  Shorn of any comedy, Hartshorne and Dobson delivered a song so sombre that it didn’t feel right to applaud; I just sat in silence at the end of it.  And reminding us that no nation has a monopoly on brutality, they followed up with Strange Fruit, an exposé of racist violence in the southern United States which I’m ashamed to say I’d never heard in full before.  It wasn’t pleasant, but it was compelling; I didn’t want to watch Hartshorne perform it, yet I couldn’t look away.

In retrospect, it feels like Dark Deeds shouldn’t have worked.  A show which features Strange Fruit surely oughtn’t to also contain a high-energy, toe-tapping, sing-along jaunty music-hall number (even if it is a song about Jack The Ripper).  Somehow, though, it all hangs together – linked by Hartshorne’s commanding character, and Dobson’s unquestionable skill.  They may have taken me to some dark places, but I’m heartily glad I followed them there.

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These are archived reviews of shows from Buxton 2013.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.