Top hats off to Theatre Paradok for bringing something so unashamedly different to the Fringe. Their wacky steampunk tale won’t appeal to everyone and will prove tiresome to anybody not prepared to go along with the enthusiastic cast and the frankly ridiculous storyline. This short play is inspired by a webcomic set in an alternate Victorian London, where icons of the Age of Progress team up for genteel adventures whilst clad in retro welding goggles, waistcoats and felt hats. It’s like Horrible Histories crossed with a superhero comic, seasoned with some vintage Doctor Who.
Charles Babbage is reimagined as a squeaky mad scientist with hair that would put Einstein to shame. His partner-in-science is famous lady mathematician Ada Lovelace, appearing here as a pipe-smoking protagonist tormented by the poetic lure of her late father, the notorious Lord Byron. Once you learn that the premise involves Babbage going rogue and harnessing the power of his Analytical Engine to eradicate music from the streets of London (so that he can work in peace), it’s clear that you are in for an eccentric time.
The plot is shakier than the original Tay Bridge and relies on a lot of faux-science recited at great speed. It is, however, told with tongue firmly in cheek, assisted by wacky musical instruments and an array of Rube Goldberg contraptions. Historical in-jokes are rife. With the Analytical Engine monopolised by Babbage’s insane scheme and all calculations in the realm grinding to a halt, Isambard Kingdom Brunel charges in to put an end to the nonsense. His dramatic entrance (complete with cigar, top hat and a shield shaped like the front of a train) prompted the biggest laugh of the show. Nothing really makes sense but luckily the production doesn’t come within a country mile of taking itself seriously - stage-hands are prone to random, witty asides, and there is a lot of talking to the audience. The plot moves in tenuous leaps and the unrelenting geekiness does rely a lot on audience indulgence. The resolution is particularly unsatisfying: Lovelace and Brunel are trying to rescue Babbage from the clutches of the evil Organist, there is a dastardly plot involving brains and revolution (of the ‘Dance Dance’ variety) and communication from the future, and - I have no idea, because then it’s all resolved as quickly as it started.
Yet A Note of Dischord is ridiculously charming despite its flaws. Put it down to madly inventive staging and the sheer audacity of putting such an off-the-wall story on the stage. It was like watching history students get drunk and improvise. I was hopelessly lost half the time but I loved every madcap minute of it.