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Diamond Dick
Published on Sunday, 14 August 2011

3 stars

C venues - C soco (venue website)
3-14, 16-29 Aug, 7:30pm-8:20pm
Reviewed by Richard Stamp

 Recommended for age 12+ only.

It’s a staple concept to bring to the Fringe: a play about putting on a play, with the inner play usually turning out to be an entertaining disaster.  But with Diamond Dick, the Paper Tape theatre company have given the idea a fresh twist, moving the action to a decadent 1920’s film set and – cleverly – doing the whole thing in black and white.  The result didn’t quite entertain me throughout, but some clever stylistic tricks and a few well-conceived characters still led to a worthwhile hour.

The outer play – set on the film set – is done more or less for laughs, with the laconic director at the back attempting to marshal her quarrelling, haughty, often-shambolic cast.  The characters are predictable enough, though none the worse for that: there’s the glamorous diva, the put-upon wardrobe mistress, the drunk.  I’d have liked to have seen a little more storyline worked in, to lend some focus to what’s sometimes a chaotic dialogue, but there were more than enough witty and catty interventions to keep the whole thing zipping joyously along.

But the inner film, based on a collection of short stories by F Scott Fitzgerald, drags the mood down.  At times I honestly wasn’t sure whether it was deliberately weak (they are clearly filming a B-movie, after all), or whether it was all just a bit languidly performed.  I think it’s the former, but if so, it needs to be drawn in bolder strokes to keep the humour going between the studio segments.  For all that, there are a couple of genuinely touching scenes in the movie we’re seeing made: look out for a monologue from the damaged Mr Vermont, which neatly and expressively captures the heartbreak of the generation returning from the First World War.

In a clever twist, since this is 1920’s cinema, the whole thing’s presented in black and white – or to put it more prosaically, the actors have painted themselves grey.  It’s a clever gimmick which is variously successful, but at its best, it’s very striking indeed.  I was a little disappointed, though, with the set: there’s nothing that’s actually wrong for its period, but given the beautifully-executed Art Deco theme which runs throughout their posters, it felt like a missed opportunity to create something really sumptuous as a backdrop for the show.

I love the idea behind Diamond Dick, and the studio scenes are often inspired.  With a bit more tightness around the film itself, this could make the transition from an interesting short to the main feature.

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