The Ballad of Backbone Joe (4 stars)

This article is from 2010.

The Ballad of Backbone Joe

A noirish tale of murder and meat fruit

Combining versatile talents with the easy-going charm that comes so naturally from an antipodean accent, Suitcase Royale’s self-penned, music-driven comedy noir provides effusive, varied entertainment. It’s pre-war Australia and Backbone Joe is a small-town boxer with a dark secret. Suffering from blackouts and haunted by demons (well, a skeleton dog with an unstable jaw), it doesn’t look good for our eponymous hero when he’s held to ransom by his abattoir-owning boss, Messy Dimes Dan. Things take a turn for the curious though when Detective Von Trapp enters the scene holding only a letter from a mysterious dame and a surprisingly versatile suitcase, as he sets off on a tale of murder, intrigue and meat fruit.

It’s a joy to witness a play of so many facets emerge as one brilliant whole. Suitcase Royale perform as a live trio in intermittent bouts, serving up aggressive blues, tortuous jazz ballads and swinging hillbilly romps to set the scene for this humble but effortlessly intriguing group of characters. The comedic narrative that drives this inspired mix of idiots and egos on their journey is just as strong as its musical accompaniment, offering sharp dialogue and wonderful moments of improvisation from performers clearly enjoying their role.

The theatrical set-pieces shine too, with the group’s use of silhouetted forms to create a boxing fight of pure cartoon slapstick, adding a touch of genius to a show already doused in superlatives. And do watch out for that ever versatile suitcase. New Zealand has been the home of group musical comedy for some time thanks to Flight of the Conchords. Expect Suitcase Royale to take that title back to Australia pretty soon.

Pleasance Courtyard, 556 6550, until 29 Aug, 2.35pm, £10–£11 (£8.50–£10).

The Ballad of Backbone Joe

  • 4 stars

A whisky-soaked tale of murder and deceit in small-town Australia, rollicking live music, a red-dressed vixen, bone-crunching visual trickery and dark comic stylings from this renowned junkyard theatre trio and masters of Australian gothic. Following their Edinburgh debut with 'Chronicles of a Sleepless Moon', The…

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