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Mark Fisher
Edinburgh, Scotland, United Kingdom
Follow me @markffisher and @writeabouttheat I am an Edinburgh-based freelance journalist and critic specialising in theatre and the arts. Publications I write for include the Guardian, Scotland on Sunday and the Scotsman. I am the author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: how to make your show a success, published in February 2012 and How to Write About Theatre: A Manual for Critics, Students and Bloggers published in July 2015. From 2000-2003, I was the editor of The List magazine, Glasgow and Edinburgh's arts and events guide. See my website for more information and comprehensive Scottish theatre links.
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Friday, September 03, 2010

The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo

Published in Northings

The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo

LIKE Slick before it, the latest show by Vox Motus is one audiences love. A couple of weeks into its run on the Edinburgh Fringe, I spoke to a woman just out of the show who said she'd had to force herself not to laugh because she didn't want to miss any of the words. She'd loved every minute.

There is plenty to love. The Glasgow company has thinly disguised the real-life story of Trygve Bauge, a Norwegian ex-pat who kept the body of his grandfather, Bredo Morstol, cryogenically frozen in a shack in the backwoods American town of Nederland. The discovery sparked an ethical debate and, in a typically American twist, ended up with an annual festival called Frozen Dead Guy Days.

As Vox Motus tells it, the town has become Reliance Falls, Bredo has become Fredo and the story milked for all its comic worth. It becomes the tale of an innocent, if eccentric young man (played with charm and sincerity by Ewan Donald) who finds himself locked in battle with a reactionary bunch of cronies, led by a Sarah Palin-like mayor. Behind the surreal premise, it is a conflict between individual freedom and civic responsibility.

What distinguishes the show is not so much the story itself as the way it is told. The set, created by directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harrison, is an endlessly mutating box of delights, ingeniously folding out to create a diner or a shack, or acting as a screen for cleverly set-up live TV broadcasts. Every so often, the cast break off to perform comic country songs, written by Michael John McCarthy, before returning to play their multiple roles.

This is all entertainingly done and it is a testament to the company's creativity that the production looks so different either to Slick or to the last show, Bright Black.

There are two underlying weaknesses, however. The first is that much of the fun comes not from the story itself but the manner in which it is told. The joke is about the pretence involved in showing the characters driving a car, walking down a corridor or presenting a news bulletin. This can be funny, but it is a self-referential humour that doesn't connect to anything beyond the theatre.

The second weakness is that, for all the story's oddness, it has no metaphorical meaning. It is just a curious tale, with little to say about anything apart from its own cartoonish world. It means that once you look behind the sophisticated staging, the clever gags and the exuberant performances, the show feels empty and soulless. There is no question Vox Motus has the means to say something, but in The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo, it doesn't appear to have much to say.

The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo is at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness, on 28-29 September 2010.

© Mark Fisher, 2010

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