The Portrait Firm takes place in a former lecture hall within the Summerhall venue. This is an important point to note, as the location and how the performers utilised the space had a major bearing on the overall enjoyment of the piece. The story centres on the tortured artists Edgar and Elizabeth as they desperately try to make sense of their art. The tone of the performance was definitely within the realms of fantasy and the absurd, with the storyline being pushed and pulled between the dozen cast members.
Upon entry we were greeted by several members of the cast who were already in song. Several other cast members were seated in chairs within the theatre. It was clear that from the get go that the audience would themselves be active participants in the production.
Throughout The Portrait Firm the performers placed themselves in the aisles of the theatre space causing the audience to look round and away from the action on stage. This was initially disorienting but as the performance progressed it added to the surreal and bizarre world that was being created. The audience had to look back and forth in order to follow the performance but this added to the confusion and helped convey the dilemma of the protagonists who were trying to make sense of their art.
The bizarre fantasy was explicitly underlined in the costume design which presented dark macabre overtones. Several of the performers found themselves encased within suitcases, while others wore abstract makeup and ripped suits.
The performance of The Portrait Firm ended rather abruptly and we were instructed to leave the performance space through the medium of song. The choir of performers was very much a highlight and ensured that The Portrait Firm was a visual and aural experience. The ending, though, did feel slightly unsatisfying. The cast worked hard to take the audience on a journey and it would have been wonderful to spend longer in their unique abstract world.