The Glorious Damnation of Eddie Small
  • By Tom King
  • |
  • 19th Aug 2015
  • |
  • ★★★★

The legend of Faustus, the man who sold his soul for knowledge, wealth and power is one which has been in the public consciousness for over 500 years. While Christopher Marlowe may have penned the definitive version of the tale back in the 16th Century, for many, the one which resonates strongest now is that of blues musician Robert Johnson, making a midnight bargain with a dark stranger for the talent to make a guitar sing to his tune. It is this story that Zut Alors Theatre have chosen to adapt for the world of bluegrass.

The tunes are catchy and the voices are sweet and, while ‘glorious’ may be overstating things, unlike Eddie’s deal, a ticket to this show is more than worth the price paid.

We open on Eddie Small, a frustrated musician with dreams bigger than his work ethic, throwing a jealous tantrum in an East London club toilets as he watches his erstwhile friend take the stage. At this darkest point appears his personal Mephisto with a deal that promises him the success he feels is owed to him - but one with a terrible price. He takes it and the world is at his feet but, of course, nothing worth having is ever gotten easily and so starts the inevitable decline.

Performance-wise, the cast is solid. Sam O’ Hanlon makes an engaging Eddie whilst at no point feeling particularly sympathetic - a difficult balance to strike but one which seems right for the character. His chemistry with best friend Luke, played by Connor Arnold, is warm, whilst also subtly weaving in the seeds of an eventual rift on both sides.

As tour manager Jo Lean, Lizzie Bourne infuses her every scene with a subtle sense of dread and tension without ever needing to turn the crazy-dial up to eleven, while Eloise Kay as Leanne provides a suitably pure moral centre (though her relationship with Eddie is not sufficiently developed for its loss to feel like a major sacrifice to his ambition). Finally, Stanton Wright makes the most of his time on stage as a Stetson-and-spurs Devil, oddly incongruous when surrounded by Limeys in Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, but charismatic all the same.

Of course, the plot and the play are only half the story - what about the music? To be honest, it’s more thinly-spread than I’d have liked and less foot-thumpingly riotous than one might expect from a bluegrass musical. What songs there are are extremely polished though and in songs such as ‘Follow Me Boys’ the combined voices and instruments of the cast still make the Bedlam rafters ring.

The transposition of the story from blues to bluegrass and from America to England puts a new spin on this well-worn tale - though the breathless exhortation that Marcus Mumford (!) is on the phone still feels faintly comedic. The tunes are catchy and the voices are sweet and, while ‘glorious’ may be overstating things, unlike Eddie’s deal, a ticket to this show is more than worth the price paid.

Reviews by Tom King

Summerhall

A Fortunate Man

★★★
Underbelly, Cowgate

The Cat's Mother

★★★
The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4

Phill Jupitus: Sassy Knack

★★★★
Traverse Theatre

Nigel Slater’s Toast

★★★
CanadaHub @ King's Hall in association with Summerhall

Famous Puppet Death Scenes

★★★★
Assembly George Square Gardens

Jess Robinson: No Filter

★★★★

Performances

Location

The Blurb

An unexceptional fantasist spots a fast-track to success, seizes it and never looks back. But as Eddie Small kicks consequence in the shins and is transformed into a bluegrass sensation, an estranged relative returns to unpick the fabric of his success. Inspired by Robert Johnson, this is a new play about the people we were and the people we become, told by a bluegrass band. Praise for previous shows: 'Pitch-perfect' **** (BroadwayBaby.com). 'A positive crowd pleaser' **** (ThePublicReviews.com). **** (ThreeWeeks). **** (EdFringeReview.com).