Irish playwright Lynda Radley’s richly metaphorical play about travelling circus freaks suffers from being set in no place at no time. Audiences are falling off and the only way forward is towards a more humane reality.
At first, Dominic Hill’s production, his last as artistic director of the Traverse before taking over the Glasgow Citizens, seems a little static, as the freaks assemble and establish their freakiness.
In truth, it stays that way, but becomes more interesting and colourful over ninety minutes. Boss Riley (Joseph Buick) needs to make changes: the fattest man in the world (Robert Paterson) must slim down; the Siamese twins (Ashley Smith and Nicola Roy) must be separated; and the armless, bearded countess (Irene Macdougall) must have a shave and “glam” up.
The idea is to overcome the prejudice in society that they’ve traded on thus far. Only Serena (Natalie Wallace), the mute mermaid, seems impervious to change, but she becomes an agent of transformation nonetheless, while hermaphrodite George/Georgina (Lesley Hart) finds the middle way of making her own call, choosing her own clothes, and marching defiantly out of the theatre.
It’s all vaguely reminiscent of those big Hollywood circus movies, but without the clowns, the animals, the melodrama or the poignancy. Nice design, though, by Colin Richmond, of the travelling tumbrel, fairy lights and a murderous magic trick.