Dr Ledbetter's Experiment
This article is from 2006.
Site specific theatre can no longer be regarded as a new trend in Britain, yet its capacity to reinvent itself with each different location certainly shows a power to compel. As the audience (replete with headphones for splendid sound and music effects) wandered about Edinburgh University’s medical faculty, through Victorian lecture halls, grand courtyards and finally narrow darkened cellars, the tricks with lights and mirrors worked their magic.
In the piece, the title character, a Victorian medical scholar, struggles to reconcile the absolute value structures laid down by religion and the relativism imposed by the empiricism of Darwin. Torn between a Christian opposition to capital punishment and a sexual frustration that leads to some untidy re-channeling, Ledbetter faces pressures from his family that leads to breakdown. Tom Swift’s script, in truth, doesn’t open up any new debate on the battle between faith and fact, but Jo Mangan’s production for The Performance Corporation adds a pastiche effect, borrowing from Hammer Horror films, Dr Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie and even contemporary images from Abu Ghraid to contemporise and revivify the debate.
There are some good performances here among the elephant skeletons and test tubes, with Rae Hendrie as a wife reduced to acidic hectoring after years of neglect and Niamh Daly a parlour maid unable to tolerate the secrecy of her affair with her master any longer particular standouts. As the piece turns into a grim Wellsian allegory about repression and science both in Victorian society and subsequent eras, its finale is strong, if a little bilious in effect, and generally, it’s a good night out, as creepy as a date with David Blunket. (Steve Cramer)
Traverse, 228 1404, until 27 Aug (not 19, 20), 8pm &10pm, £15 (£10-£4.50).