This is a strange addition to the Fringe programme - and I'm not talking swastika-straddling naked physical theatre or radical juggling Shakespeare revamp. Villains, Heroes and Adventurers is more like corporate after-dinner entertainment than something you'd expect at an arts festival; John Mark di Ciacca's whisky tasting and storytelling takes place in the boardroom of Jenners department store, an oak-panelled bunker surrounded by offices and gleaming shop floors. Seated in rows of impeccably laid tables, we're given three tumblers and a business card, presumably so that we can hire out di Ciacca for our next departmental ice-breaker.
'This is your evening,' our eager host opens, preparing us for an hour and a half of alcohol appreciation and riveting tales. While I'm personally no authority on high-class hooch (and fellow drinkers assure me we're being offered top-notch stuff), I must admit di Ciacca's own material and delivery are both a bit of a let-down. He’s likeable enough, but overall it’s a gently rambling evening that leaves many slumped in their seats: a mixed barrel of unrelated stories delivered with little energy or flair.
The 'heroes and adventurers' of the title are Arctic explorers and the gold rushers of America's new frontier. Who knows what either of these have to do with whisky, but it's reasonably engaging if a little confused; Di Ciacca's insistence on squeezing in endless trivia can make him sound a little like a pub bore. It's annotated with powerpoint slides and at one point we're shown a stop-motion animation of Ernest Shackleton's arrival on Elephant Island. The experience begins to feel slightly like sitting through a shyly eccentric schoolteacher's history lesson whilst getting slowly drunk. Di Ciacca's narration is considered but far from enthralling and though we're told we can ask questions whenever we want, he's a little put out when someone actually does; unsurprisingly, it transpires he's not hugely knowledgeable about the time periods on which he's presenting.
What he does know is whisky; di Ciacca makes the complexities of the drink’s flavours and processes surprisingly interesting and when he's in his field of expertise our humble raconteur gains an engagingly passionate, quirky charm. For enthusiasts or budding tasters this could be a pleasant hour and a half, but at fifteen pounds a pop those looking for a tipple with adventurous intrigue might frankly be better off heading down the pub or watching the history channel.