By Megan Luesley
When asked to sum up Wrong Tree’s latest devised work, director Henry Gould emphasised one word – intense. Perhaps a show about hell could never be anything but. Still, as the latest work by Durham University’s acclaimed devised theatre, ‘Inferno’ is far more than just an adaptation of Dante’s masterpiece.
This is Wrong Tree’s third trip to the Fringe since it was founded in 2015, and it’s an ambitious project to say the least. Seven cast members and as many live musicians as they can squeeze in the Argyll theatre attempt to take both successful lawyer Bella (Isabel McGrady) and the audience on a whistle stop tour of hell, in all its grotesque, horrific glory.
But what exactly are the demons of the 21st century? Wrong Tree reject the fire and brimstone in favour of something more relevant, and perhaps more troubling.
Take, for example, the ‘Fraud’ scene in which the demons labour in an office like clockwork robots. Combined with the suits worn by the cast, it creates a hell for the modern era. Still, this is just one facet of the production. “We had a lot of disagreements about different concepts, like hell and violence,” says Kyle Kirkpatrick (Demon ensemble), “and whether or not we went for an orthodox vision.”
This difficulty, however, reflects what they view as the production’s biggest stren
gth – the fact that it’s a communal creation. Gould had the initial idea, but the rest, from storyline to dialogue to characters to demons, is the result of this collaborative and ever-changing process. “It was always an organic process,” Gould states. When asked about memorable moments in rehearsals, the cast recounted some of the cut lines from the devising process. “My favourite is in Gluttony, where we’re force-feeding someone,” says Olivia Swain (Demon ensemble). “Her line was ‘I need a break!’ and Harry just yelled ‘Have a Kit-Kat!’”
Whilst hell, sin, eternal damnation and the tedium of modern life are dismal subjects to put a dampener on a Fringe-goer’s day, the cast are adamant that it’s not all doom and gloom, despite some of their wackier ideas being cut. They use their Devil (Patrick Palmer) to reinforce this. “We took a lot of inspiration from comedies, this idea of the ironies of heaven and hell that almost humanise the Devil. It’s funny to see him going through a mid-life crisis.”
And besides, what is sin if it isn’t a teeny tiny bit tempting? Gould calls it an “absolute spectacle” of a show, and the cast insist that they’ve worked hard to make it a visceral and engaging experience. “It’s not a lecture. We’re respecting the audience as independent thinking adults,” Kirkpatrick states.
Can’t make up your own mind? This is perhaps the only time I’ll be able to say this on an online journalistic platform: go to hell!