Theatre Critic and Journalist

Review: Sporadical, Forest Fringe

Review: Sporadical, Forest Fringe

Published on Culture Wars, 04.09.2009

Having scooped themselves a Fringe First and a Total Theatre Award last year with the manic and moving Crocosmia, Little Bulb return to Edinburgh as the Forest Fringe’s resident company for 2009. Their latest embryonic offering is an epic folk opera – equally quaint of title – that manages to catch the venue’s buoyant mood and spirited generosity with wonderfully shambolic aplomb.

Set up as a family reunion, of which we are all a part, Sporadical’s main thrust is in its ramshackle retelling of how our two adopted ancestral lines, the Welles and the Ferrys, became one; united and hyphenated by matrimony. With perky songs and painted backdrops, a five-strong company of actor-musicians recount a folklore concocted from traditional ingredients, such that mariners, mermaids, maidens and a murdered whore conveniently converge on the sea bed, fall in love and discover shared lineages.

There may not be much to it, but the actual course of narrative events is of little bother, since it provides a welcome excuse for a rambunctious hour in the company of Little Bulb. The jaunty harmonies that spring from accordions, guitars and melodicas, the tidy sprinkling of wit, the flurry of cardboard props and, most of all, the giddy, carefree energy of the performers all combine to make Sporadical a high-spirited cocktail that goes straight to your head.

Usually, I find myself begrudging work so wholly reliant on atmosphere and a consciously poor aesthetic. Gomito, for example, have riled me up no end with the lazy melancholy of rustic guitars, battered suitcases and shabby puppetry. With its bucolic costumes and carefully constructed village-hall amateurism, Sporadical certainly walks a similar path.

Where Little Bulb differ, however, is in their lack of conceit. Here, style is not used to compensate for content, dressing it up in order to disguise its flimsiness. Instead, the style is the content. If anything, it dresses down, allowing a relish of the tarnished performance that maintains the crucial tipsiness of atmosphere, which is initially constructed through personal welcomes and pointers to the bar.

We get onside with Little Bulb because their story is driven only by a need for stories. There are no portentous claims of deeper import and no self-important revelations dressed up to look pretty. Instead Sporadical is just hearty, silly, folksy fun.

Photograph: Little Bulb/Forest Fringe

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