The Dark Carnival (3 stars)

The Dark Carnival

credit: Mihaela Bodlovic

A Gothic celebration of life, death, and those in-between

Both bedtime story and seminar for the recently deceased, wonderfully narrated in rhyme by an impish Elicia Daly, The Dark Carnival looks at what happens when the dead simply refuse to lie down and rest, and form an underground resistance. It all feels like stepping into the pages of an Edward Gorey book, with gorgeous vintage design and costumes by Kenneth MacLeod.

Little vignettes of sadness and bizarre deaths permeate throughout the production, all soundtracked by the charismatic Biff Smith and his band of ghouls, whose sweeping melodic maladies (sic) sound like Danny Elfman singing with Tom Waits' band. There are children taken too young, horrible mishaps with fireworks, and a moving love story featuring Peter Collins, as Old Peter, a dapper gay man grieving for his lost love.

Natali McCleary and Ramesh Meyyappan ramp up the mischief as, respectively, a boozy smoking angel and mute gravedigger. And the fabulous Ann Louise Ross is the necropolitan matriarch, Eugenia Mark, dispensing advice and golden drams to the assembled with an arched eyebrow and wicked one-liners.

Yet for all its invention, ambition and satire on societal modes, this carnival feels more like a late night lock-in. It's cosy rather than decadent, with emotional punches that are thrown in velvet gloves. But there is heart and humour, and the charming cast and band are a pleasure to spend time with – now, or in the afterlife.

Tramway, Glasgow, until Sat 2 Mar; Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, Wed 6–Sat 9 Mar; Dundee Rep, Wed 13–Sat 16 Mar.

The Dark Carnival

Music and theatre piece involving sixteen performers and musicians who tell the story of newcomers to the afterlife who discover death is not the end. From Vanishing Point in co-production with Citizens Theatre, in association with Dundee Rep

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