It’s 1816, and Mary Shelley is about to recite the words that would be Frankenstein. She is in Lord Byron’s Geneva residence, where riotous, hedonistic parties are held every night, and the summer proved wet and uncomfortable. Now, it’s 2019, and Isabel Schmier stands before an audience in a dark hallowed corner of the anarchic Edinburgh Fringe, reciting dark poems and tales of the macabre. Outside, the Scottish Summer alternates between rain and sun with exhaustive abandon, matching the tales in their discourteous air.
Rules her tiny corner of the Fringe with insight and charisma.
Schmier however, is anything but discourteous. She recites the poems with an unmatched eloquence, a fluency that hypnotises the room like an omen, bringing the tales to life with perfect diction and delivery. It’s so strange, hearing this easygoing and cheerful figure tell tales of madmen eating flies and corpses rotting in the sun, but then, that is the phenomenon of the gothic. As highlighted in her performance of Charles Baudelaire’s The Carcass, the morbid can be not just enticing, but even beautiful. Schmier’s repertoire is carefully chosen, thematic in its depiction of a decaying and ageing world, telling stories of Counts in their rotting castles and men paralysed by spectres neither psychological nor paranormal. Vanitas is a virtue sorely needed in today’s frozen cyber-world of image editing, and Schmier’s performance is a wonderful reminder.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. Schmier is herself a fascinating and informative character, able to tell dark tales to even the most spooked of audiences. She peppers her collection with comedic tales, reading from Lewis Carroll’s The Jabberwocky with a joyous enthusiasm, and tales of ghosts who quote Immanuel Kant’s refutation of the possibility of apparitions. Even the notorious “From Hell” letter supposedly written by Jack the Ripper is said with a darkly humorous manner. This is the gothic with a sense of humour, which is the best kind of horror.
Edgar Allan Poe’s The Raven is told, and one recalls the terror it initially must have caused, the recreation of those candle-lit parlours filled with whispers of “Nevermore” feeling so effortless from Schmier. It’s a wonderful and , of course, but it does feel like familiar ground after so many new and alluring accounts from France and Germany have been told. The passage describing Renfield in the insane asylum from Bram Stoker’s Dracula is a hell of a lot of fun though.
Horror - Gothic Tales and Dark Poetry is a simple show, changed up only slightly with occasional songs and notes plucked from the kalimba, but it is so atmospheric in its simplicity. Isabel Schmier is a master of terror and morbidity, a forceful and emphatic presence who rules her tiny corner of the Fringe with insight and charisma. A must-see for any horror fan desperate for surcease of Fringe upheaval.