A Divine Comedy

The problem with epic poetry is that it's just so…..epic. Our time is presently dominated by modes of communication that are prized for being brief: 140 Twitter characters is no place for Dante’s 14,233 line poem Divine Comedy, and you certainly couldn’t cram his wonderful, overflowing images and characters into a gif. We are at risk of losing interest in this lengthy, heavy kind of work, despite its undeniable storytelling power, emotive language and literary significance. Luckily, Mike Maran, a Fringe veteran in his final performance, has created an adaptation of Dante’s poem that can speak more freely to all, while retaining the fascinating essential story that has so much meaning.

Turn off your phone - this is something worth spending two hours on.

Maran’s easygoing adaptation allows him to take Dante’s place - it is he who travels through hell, purgatory and heaven in search of love and its meaning, encountering various historical characters during the journey. We see the circles of hell, where divine justice proves to be rather hard to interpret. Some seem to be in hell unfairly. We see the ledges of purgatory, where we have to learn to overcome our sinful characteristics. Finally, in heaven, we approach the shimmering, vivid, arcane concept of love.This excellent piece of storytelling relies on Maran’s charisma and unhurried tones. His clear love for Dante’s work is infectious, and as he quotes liberally from the italian text we get a sense of the power and artistry of the poem. He succeeds in making Dante so wonderfully accessible, and has a healthy sense of humour about the inevitable seriousness of an allegory about heaven and hell. His frequent references to his own flaws and tongue in cheek comparisons with Dante himself provoke easy laughter, with contemporary references kept to a minimum but used to retain our attention.

At two hours including an interval, Maran’s success in keeping his one man piece interesting is remarkable. He is helped by the sheer power of Dante’s tale, so compelling, so beyond the normal scope of story. In your mind's eye you can imagine the landscape of hell, the expanses of heaven and the cliff edges of purgatory. You can imagine that there is something more, something beyond our daily concerns, past the clichéd concepts of love that fall short of describing its complexity.

It would be nice to see Maran’s complete vision, as this piece is currently still a work in progress, and sometimes he could do with an extra pair of hands, but ultimately he succeeds in making you want to run off and read an exceptionally long poem written 700 years ago. Turn off your phone - this is something worth spending two hours on. 

Reviews by Andrew Forbes

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The Blurb

Veteran Edinburgh writer and performer, Mike Maran, follows Dante's giant footsteps in a journey through Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso in search of love. These final performances, which last two hours including one interval, are Mike's Fringe farewell.