City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Walden, Electric City, Review

By Ken Wilson - Posted on 31 May 2016

Show Details
Electric City
Magnetic North
Henry Thoreau (writer), Nicholas Bone (playwright and director), Sans Façon (designers), Iain Kettles (set builder), Verity Leigh (producer)
Cameron Mowat (David Henry Thoreau)
Running time: 

David Henry Thoreau’s (1817-62) book Walden is one that every American high school student knows. For the rest of us, Thoreau is best known for his aphorisms, the most famous of which is “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation”. Others sayings seem to belong to motivational posters or those meaningful memes people send round on Facebook: “our life is frittered away by detail... Simplify, simplify”.

Thoreau spent two years at Walden, Massachusetts, in a 10 x 15 foot cabin by a pond getting in touch with his true self and nature. He spent another 10 years writing about it. It was a spartan existence of denial.

Environmentalists, eco-warriors, hippies and anarchists love his work. Maybe this is why it’s at the Hidden Door festival which is a throwback to the early Fringe.

The play chimes well with the home-spun, anarchic, make-do ethos of the Hidden Door Festival and maybe that’s why it’s here. Magnetic North’s one-man play adapted and directed by Nicholas Bone takes a sidelong look at Walden and Thoreau’s experiment in subsistence living and abstinence where even a pair of curtains was a threat to the purity of his soul. He drank nothing but water and steered clear of tobacco, salt, tea, music and even a doormat. Thoreau makes John Calvin look like Elton John.

It’s known that Thoreau was as sanctimonious and inconsistent as he was parsimonious – he didn’t always practise what he preached. Had this aspect of his experiment made it into this production it might have made it a little less preachy and far more interesting.

Cameron Mowat is excellent as the earnest Thoreau, planting his beans and whittling his hickory stick. Who doesn’t, in our fast-paced world not wish for silent contemplation “not governed by the ticking of a clock”?

The purpose-built seating by Sans Façon is as much part of the experience is anything. It’s shaped like a giant eye watching the action. In another venue away from the leaking sound from the music and poetry tent next door Walden would have been a different (and better) experience. When Thoreau says “I have never found a companion as companionable as solitude” the voices beyond the wall say otherwise.

Monday 30 May (6:30pm, 8:30pm), Tuesday 31 May (6:30pm, 8:30pm) and Wednesday 1 June (6:30pm, 8:30pm)