The Psychic Detective
4 stars ****
E4 UdderBELLY’s Pasture (Venue 300)
IN A ROUGH-AND-READY way, this latest piece from the Scottish-based company Benchtours is one of the most stylish shows your likely to see on this year’s Fringe. Staged in a louche-looking red-painted container parked in George Square, it’s a brief 55-minute essay in film noir imagery, scripted by new-to-theatre writer Helen Smith, that brings an X-Files twist to a classic West Coast tale of dames, car-chases, and shady motels where gangsters drink champagne from the shoes of expensive ladies. Its hero – a gloomy private detective played by Peter Clerke, with middle-aged angst and crisis etched on his face – finds himself mugged, thrown into a dock, and on the point of drowning. But instead, he falls through a time-warp from the present day into a classic 1940’s mystery involving a doomed dame who strangely fascinates him; and becomes haunted by the feeling that he must solve the mystery in time to win his own life back.
Once that point is made, The Psychic Detective – subtitled And Those Disappeared – has nowhere much to go; the story remains as trapped in a lost corner of time as our hero. But with the action played out entirely behind a little cinema-screen-shaped window at one end of the narrow space, it’s fascinating to watch how Benchtours’ director Pete Brooks, designer Laura Hopkins, and lighting designer Jeanine Davies, use the tiny space available to create strange, surreal images with a magical sense of perspective, to change locations with a flick of the lighting-state, and to play around with the relationship between filmic imagery and live action. Smith’s script is a slender piece of pastiche, that struggles to find a persuasive ending; but the presentation is a haunting and sometimes moving exploration of the film noir aesthetic, and of the feeling of doom that haunts it, then and now.
Until 27 August