The smoke machine is already in overdrive as we take our seats. Looking around, there is definitely a higher proportion of redheads in Eden Court’s OneTouch Theatre than you’d find at any other public event. But then, this is a cabaret about a world where redheads are segregated, discriminated against. The hand-painted set of three flats, with the tacky-chic “Scarlet Church” (a refuge for all redheads) central, make up the dimly lit set. Hair colour is the the chief topic of audience small talk all around.
And Tidy Carnage take to the stage with Brechtian self-awareness. No losing yourself in the story here – we are shaken out of it by narration throughout (for which the script could have been tighter, so that the audience do more of the thinking), songs, poetry and a wide range of deliberately alienating sound effects. This is as Tidy Carnage would have it – a cabaret club as the setting, a cabaret as the form of presentation, alike but far from the same.
Sarah McCardie’s voice is strong and perfectly in keeping with REaD‘s cabaret style – the other two less so. However, there are real strengths to Belle Jones’ acting and comic dancing, and Linda Duncan McLaughlin preserves a convincingly smoky authority as Madame, the Scarlet Church’s enigmatic leader.
It’s a shame that clichés abound in the narrative: the persecutors are called the “Wolves”; redheads can reach sanctuary “over the rainbow” and the Redheads-versus-Wolves dynamic stays one-dimensional. The show is at its best with original song and dance routines like the excellent Red in History rap and a guess-the-redhead game. Miming to popular pop songs then feels a little lazy, despite clever use of set and very entertaining movement. The show relies heavily on SFX and voiceover – and mostly successfully, although volume balance needed some adjustment, in particular during the interrogation scenes.
But it would be churlish to begrudge REaD the praise it deserves as a subversive, humorous show with an original concept. Its poetic interludes are delivered with gusto, lighting is effective, there is a nifty paper-burning moment with undisputed wow-effect and the finale is met with raucous laughter. It certainly has plenty of heart. Thank you, Tidy Carnage, for that.