Newbury Youth Theatre present Gogol’s The Portrait, at The Corn Exchange, Newbury, on Saturday, July 30, and The Quaker Meeting House, Edinburgh, from Monday, August 8 to Saturday, August 13
HAVING built up a reputation at the Edinburgh Fringe over the past 15 years as a force to be reckoned through their powerful ensemble productions, Newbury Youth Theatre will be returning to Scotland on Monday with another vibrant performance, this time based on a short story by 19th century Russian author Nikolai Gogol.
Adapted and directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and devised by the company, this was a story fizzing with thrills, shocks and humour, as a crowd gathered at an auction house to observe the sale of an infamous portrait, said to bring doom to its owners “as the devil changes hands”. Using the bric-a-brac surrounding them, the crowd told the history of the portrait, and its subject, a mysterious moneylender whose loans similarly led to disaster for those obliged to borrow from him.
With the ensemble cast of 17 made up with ghostly faces in varying shades of pale, this was a spooky tale, but one shot through with a strong sense of humour and a big dose of jollity, as portraits came to life, ghosts wafted into dreams and ghastly deaths were recreated through physical theatre, slapstick, clowning, shadowplay and puppetry.
An ingeniously designed set filled with picture frames, atmospheric music played on broken instruments (and beautifully-tuned water-filled jam jars) and folk-style songs and costumes reflecting the Russian setting added further strength to an impactful and, most importantly, fabulously entertaining performance. In the telling of a morality tale warning of the dangers of creating art for gain and glory rather than for its own sake, the wholehearted investment of the entire Newbury Youth Theatre company into the production was clear.
The result was a devilish delight of dark pleasures, which deserves to wow once again in Edinburgh.
- First published in Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, August 4, 2011