Ten Plagues

With pre-festival recommendations from The Guardian and The Scotsman as well as a slot at one of the Fringe’s most prestigious theatres, performances of Ten Plagues have been packed with high expectations. Catching the audience’s opinion at the other end of the tunnel has proved a great deal harder to judge. There was an air of disappointment and lethargy after the performance I attended, but with impressive reviews from a number of highly regarded critics and now a Scotsman Fringe First Award, there are clearly some who were mesmerised by the production.Ten Plagues is an entirely sung one-man show following the anguish of a gay man watching as the flesh of the one he loves succumbs to the Great Plague. Former Soft Cell front-man Marc Almond occupies the lead role and acclaimed playwright Mark Ravenhill has penned the libretto. These names will have undoubtedly attracted a large percentage of audiences but the collaboration seems to have originated from a touching connection between the two rather than a desire to sell tickets..Considering that each has come terrifyingly close to death, the production is immensely personal to both. Unfortunately, Almond is unable to channel this personal experience into the character he is playing. One can never really can shake the feeling that we are watching Marc Almond perform a piece of contemporary musical theatre (the failure to powder his signature neck tattoo does not help). The vast array of settings and voices remain as ideas in a script. Almond offers only minor variations in tone and physicality, a mimed pig carcass is tossed under the arm with the all the weight of a Chanel handbag.His vocals are also of poor quality, perhaps aptly uneasy on the ears, but when the show is entirely sung we become desensitised to the steady stream of flat notes. Thankfully the score is more successful. The melody is not noticeably beautiful but moments of discord are enhanced by a comparatively tuneful accompaniment. Nonetheless, it is not enough to save the production. Performed poorly, it does not have enough character to take a life of its own.The libretto seems similarly lifeless although it is harder to tell whether another production would present it in a better light. Language was frequently lost with poor diction and so it is hard to judge this aspect without a copy of the script. Under Almond’s control, the plot plods along as it aims to present a gallery of diseased street urchins who watch, even laugh, as a couple devoted to one another are forced apart by a fever. There is an inspired section of defiance involving a virus-infested wig but such moments of Ravenhill’s characteristic comic controversy come in too short a supply. Comparisons to modern infestations and STI’s are obvious and the closing explicit parallels to contemporary society are unnecessary, verging on patronising.The problems of the production can hardly go unnoticed but the direction does its best to distract its audience. It generally does a good job. There is true agony in the mind’s eye of the piece and the multimedia, agonisingly understated, effectively portrays the strengthening addiction one feels to a lover who pushes you away. Scattered, musician-less music stands and a life-size projection of the protagonist’s lover further enhance a cold feeling of solitude. These aspects of set serve to haunt the space, pleading to be occupied by peformers. It is just a shame that their absence has greater impact than Almond’s presence.

Reviews by Sam Kingston-Jones

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The Blurb

Performed by Marc Almond, libretto by Mark Ravenhill. A thrilling and unique music theatre experience inspired by the London Plague of 1665 and modern day epidemics. The story of one man's journey through a city in crisis. www.madeinscotland2011.com

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