Doppler – Newhailes House and Gardens

Written and Directed by Ben Harrison

Adapted from Erlend Loe’s novel

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some people buy a muscle car to conceal their insecurities – others have an affair, though the less said there, the better. A mid-life crisis can result in a peculiar array of life choices, both self-destructive and improving. And then there’s the complete opposite end of the spectrum in deciding to reject the glorified consumerist lifestyle we live within – pitch a tent, escape all of humanity and shack up with the young Elk whose mother you have just slain.

But grief makes us do unusual things. Here, novelist Erlend Loe’s satire is written over the walls, well, er, trees by adaptor and director Ben Harrison. Located within the rear of the National Trust of Scotland venue, just past the charming Shell Cottage, Doppler channels the great ironies of life and self-gratification within the story of a forty-something-year-old man’s choices following the death of his father. Driven to obsession, Keith Fleming’s principal role as Doppler guides the audience through this wood outside of Oslo.

Unpredictable, the audience is forgiven for being unsure if our protagonist is a hero, or to be feared, in the narrow and conceited force pushing Doppler to continue, particularly as the consequences of his life choice ripple onto others. Harrison’s decision to reinforce the humour of the original text within Fleming’s performance offers an edge to the unhinged concerns he may bring, lowering his level to comfortable accessibility for the audience.

And to say this unique landscape venue would be a challenge for the Edinburgh specialist company GridIron Theatre would be an outright lie. Thriving in momentum, rarely repeating a locale, there’s this presence that Doppler may well have been staged in this setting regardless of social distancing events.

Sensory the lingering scent of the campfire will remain with the audience, though perhaps not as long as the imprinted memory of the lead performances and consequence of the story. And it may be around the urination noises where the ears begin to play catch-up with the nose and realise the extent to which Nik Paget-Tomlinson’s sound design and David A. Pollock organic score play a part in the immersion of Doppler. Almost everything is performed live, with only a few vocal numbers and line reads relegated to pre-recorded sequences.

But Doppler isn’t alone in these woods, far from it. Despite the silence -the sublimely twisted irony is that in pursuing a life detached from people, more than ever seem to surround him.

A disposed spouse, blue-blooded right-winging mutt-owning aristocrat, pensive teenager and a young Elk, Chloe-Ann Tylor is somewhere between metamorphic and identity crisis as she joins Fleming. In likely the oddest sentence to produce during the Fringe, which in itself says a lot, the infused emotional presence and value Taylor imbues within this young Elk is far beyond the expectations, the audience may possess but is enrapturing, and at times hilarious.

And even amid the woods, Fergus Dunnet, Becky Minto and Elle Taylor puppetry, lighting and conceptual design work manifests spaces of thought for the audience and manoeuvres the narrative from the earthen grounds of Scotland to a small market store in Norway, and to the sitting room of a downtrodden Dusseldorf who shares in Doppler’s disconnection with his father. Sean Hay at first seems distant, a memory of no solid significance to the story, but gradually undertakes vital roles as both Doppler’s only real ‘friend’ and young son, who shares enviable energy with Chloe-Ann Taylor.

Logically there’s an understanding of Dopplers needs, an acceptance of whether or not the audience agrees with the methods and outcome. And despite the steadfast grasp with comedy, the show merits a soft, delicate touch with performance. Harrison never hinders the textual structure of Loe’s original, shifting the satire to a recognisable location, even in the fifteen years since its original publishing.

Doppler runs at Newhailes House and Gardens on August 18th, 20th – 23rd. Tickets for which can be purchased here.

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