Catherine Wheels‘ The Voice Thief, co-created by Gill Robertson, Karen Tennent and Ian Cameron, is a promenade performance/guided tour of the Mackenzie Institute for the Encouragement of Vocal Harmony (MIEVH for short). Beatrice Mackenzie (Amy MacGregor), a shy and downtrodden young woman leads the group around, accompanied by two Oompa Loompa/Minion style workers with matching metallic purple bobs and serene sat-nav tonality. It’s Beatrice’s father however, the ostentatious Dr Broderick Mackenzie (Crawford Logan), who is the centre’s founder, swooping in and out of rooms like a rock star to explain the science behind his pioneering techniques. However, the charismatic leader appears to be hiding a dark secret.
Tennent’s design is a triumph of quirky silliness, pseudo-normality and sinister foreboding: a decontamination walk-through of sponges and garish colour is joyously playful, whereas the shadowy looming shelves of the final scene instil dread and fear, creating an overall ambience that deftly treads the boundary of reality and fantasy. With fantastical “scientific” apparatus, cartoon-like costumes and performances so effervescent they practically fizz over the edge, every detail works at immersing you into this brilliantly buoyant quasi-real atmosphere.
Simmering under the bubbly fun however, Danny Krass’ at times gently melancholic soundscape is a reminder of the narrative’s more sullen direction. Strong themes of loneliness, subjugation and abandonment, create an emotional arc that makes the wee ones want to help out. As a resolution is reached, the message left resonating is an empowering and uplifting belief of staying true to your voice and not letting it be diminished.