The Burial of the Rats
theSpace on Niddry Street, Edinburgh Fringe
Fourth Monkey, an actor training company in north London, has carved out a reputation for inventive fringe productions over recent years. One of its shows at this year's Edinburgh Fringe is The Burial of the Rats, a curious piece inspired by a short story by Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula. As Fourth Monkey describes it in publicity, it is certainly “bold” but, despite an 18-strong cast featuring some promising talent, it sadly meanders and misfires.
The original story tells a lurid tale of a young writer lost in a slum area of Paris in the mid-19th century, described by its first-person narrator as a “city of dust”. As well as man-eating rats, it mainly recounts the man being chased through the streets of Paris by a bloodthirsty horde of women and old soldiers intent on robbery and murder. Fourth Monkey has used this as a starting point to open the story up into a portrait of a crumbling, decadent Europe in the decades after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo.
It opens much like the original story on the young man, here a painter named Oliver, heading off to seek distraction and inspiration on a grand tour of Europe after the father of the woman he loves, Alice, instructs him to go away for 12 months to test his commitment. The show adds more characters, including Oliver's friend Hugo with whom he travels first to Rome and then onto Paris. Here they bump into famous real-life bohemians of the time including composer Chopin, writer Georges Sand and notorious courtesan Céleste. Oliver becomes increasingly distressed about not being with Alice, leading to hallucinations and his stumbling into the Parisian shanty town.
Running for 90 minutes, the play attempts insights into the disintegration of France and Italy in the 19th century due to political turmoil and revolution as well as musings on art and artistic inspiration. Significant chunks of dialogue are in actual French and Italian, with little translation, further slowing down what little plot there is. Even occasional music played on clarinet, guitar, flute and accordion fails to lift the production.
This is not to say there aren't some good performances. Jonathan Hawkins looks wonderfully startled and perplexed as Oliver while Calum Witney stands out as the arty upper-class dilettante Hugo. Also of note is Mia Jerome who is much-needed light relief in roles including Jeanne, the poet Baudelaire's plain-speaking muse. These three especially bring some comedy to the piece which the audience were hungry for on the night I saw it but which seemed at odds with the earnestness of the rest of the cast. There is no doubt a germ of a good show in this bold re-interpretation of Stoker's story but this production unfortunately falls short of achieving it.
Running on August 7, 9 and 11 at Edinburgh Fringe and August 17 to 27 at The Monkey House, Camden, London.