City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

The Doubtful Guest Review

By Bill Dunlop - Posted on 21 August 2009

Fringe 2009: The Doubtful Guest
Show details
Traverse Theatre
Hoipolloi with Theatre Royal, Plymouth and English Touring Theatre
Running time: 
Shon Dale-Jones (writer and director), Stefanie Muller (designer), Alexander Rudd (composer), Peter Harrison (lighting designer)
Cassie Friend, Ben Frimston, Stefanie Muller, Andrew Pembrooke, Trond-Erik Vassdal

The Doubtful Guest, Edward Gorey's rhyming-couplet tale of domestic disruption, is given a lively, if lengthy, outing by Hoipolloi. The Bishop family - father, mother daughter and son-in-law live in harmless, if eccentric, seclusion in their rambling old house. One night a strange creature appears at their door, gains entrance and proceeds to make their lives miserable by its own eccentric behaviour.

Hoipolloi give The Doubtful Guest their own nine yards, playing lightly with themes of personal and family identity, and also suggesting to this reviewer parallels with colonialism and interventionism inverted to question other areas of identity. Unfortunately, for all its energy and inventiveness, The Doubtful Guest doesn't always work, and some of the repeated action becomes a series of jokes which go on too long and diminish rather than add to the overall ambiance and effect.

This is a real pity, as the cast work hard and ensemble produce some fine theatrical moments. Now and again, however, it feels as if the repetition, even for the benefit of an audience of children, drags rather than delights.

Gorey, who died in 2000, continues to enjoy a considerable following, and although his work ostensibly aims at children, as with all good books intended for this audience, many adults keenly appreciate it. A number of these were probably in the audience at the performance seen, although it was a pity hardly any children filled out a crowded Traverse One. This reviewer was left to speculate how they might have reacted to this interpretation of Gorey's tale.

The antics of the eponymous ‘Guest' frequently amuse, but the darker side of this particular story do not ultimately shine through as they really ought to. There's a prop-heavy side to the show also, with much flying in and out of objects, but again one is left to speculate on why so much of this is necessary, and it ultimately becomes distracting in the opposite sense to what one hoped The Doubtful Guest might be.

Times: 18-29 August, various times (see Fringe Programme for details)

Copyright Bill Dunlop 2009

First published on 2009

Read Barbara Bryan's review of The Doubtful Guest