Not half a rap into knocking on the door of an unassuming Marchmont flat is it swung open to reveal the white-faced, monocled Tomsky (Isabella Foreshaw) who exuberantly welcomes us to the masquerade at the St Petersburg estate. After being swiftly ushered in, anonymised and introduced to our fellow masked guests and the estate’s residents, reality seems to have long been left at the door.
Any last glimmers of the outside world are soon forgotten as the evening delves ever deeper into the enchantingly intense rabbit hole of Alexander Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades, the maiden production of student company, Tattletale, directed by Auriol Reddaway and produced by Polly Burnay. A site-specific, promenade adaptation, ‘guests’ are led between the stunningly furnished rooms of a 19th Century Russian estate, laying intimate witness to temptation, deception and tragedy. Rumour has it that the ageing and volatile Countess (Dalia Al-dujaili) guards a secret of the three cards which, when played in sequence, will win anyone their fortune. Enthralled by this promise of ultimate wealth, Herman (George Lewes) abandons his pragmatic and moral principles, dragging the Countess’ naïve young ward, Liza (Sylvia Oudmaijer) into the corrupt world of his desire.
Tattletale’s The Queen of Spades is the pinnacle of what student theatre can be. The production is indulgently risk-taking in all aspects, and this ambition is realised in a brilliantly engrossing and successful theatric experience. The play boasts a varied synthesis of inspired production decisions. Live violinists provide both background melodies and screeching soundscape expressions; exquisite and dynamic set and costume design are entirely transporting, whilst the details, such as the invitation’s “luxurious” dress code and scene participation elevate the audience from observers to accomplices — Tomsky closed the door of the fourth wall behind us. Some production elements are less successful. The short films, projected on the corridor wall between scenes, are ambiguous, the harsh white light in interruptive contrast to the otherwise candlelit interior. Although the mixed-media element reflects the production’s ambition, it comes at the cost of immersion.
The principal characters are played to a very high standard, especially ingénue Liza. On occasion, however, during more surreal moments, a contrast of tone between characters gives the impression of slight underacting. At the heart of the play’s success is the chorus (Isabella Forshaw, Giorgio Bounous, Billy Chapman, Claire Sandford) who undertake various roles, from gambling imperial soldiers and estate staff to the excellently choreographed psychological manifestation of Herman’s moral unravelling.
The Queen of Spades is an outright success. Deeply ambitious, the play masterfully pairs Pushkin’s classic with an earnest, risk-taking production that is a refreshing change from the well-established troupes of everyone’s favourite red-doored church. Striking exciting originality into Edinburgh’s theatre scene, Tattletale and its next production have much to live up to.
The Queen of Spades
Image: Madeleine Wood