Ghost Quartet, presented in the Roundabout tent, to the rear of the Summerhall venue, is billed as ‘a haunted song cycle… a raucous chamber musical’. It is a song cycle about ‘love, death, and whiskey… four friends drink in four interwoven narratives spanning seven centuries.’
The impressive quartet of the title comprises two men and two women, who are collectively known as Ghost Quartet. The show comes to the Edinburgh Fringe after great success in New York. Everyone sings, and all play a variety of instruments. The song cycle is in four parts, with the fourth part containing the lion’s share of dark elements, with just a few quick flashes of light revealing the musicians and the ghosts that circulate in the small ring – and perhaps through the seats in the audience. Each part is named as if on a recorded album, i.e. ‘Side One’, Side Two’ etc.
The show tells four interwoven stories: ‘a warped fairy tale about two sisters, a treehouse astronomer and a lazy evil bear; a retelling of Edgar Allan Poe’s’ The Fall of the House of Usher; a purgatorial intermezzo about Scheherezade and the ghost of (jazz pianist) Thelonious Monk ; and a contemporary fable about a subway murder.
The four are: Brent Arnold (cello, guitar, dulcimer, percussion), Brittain Ashford (autoharp, keyboard, percussion), Gelsey Bell (xylophone, Celtic harp, accordion, percussion) and Dave Malloy (piano, keyboard, ukelele, percussion). Malloy is also responsible for the music composition, lyrics and text.
All musicians display an enormous amount of virtuoso talent, highlighting the incredible voice of lead singer Gelsey Bell, and using a range of styles from pop to contemporary classical – sometimes the vocal effects are simply terrifying. The music is augmented by the detailed lighting design of Christopher Bowser.
The songs always have very simple titles: I Do Not Know, Subway, ‘The Telescope, Hero, Bad Man.. These, and others, create rich universes, deep and diverse. Some are comic, others dramatic – but the ghosts are always there, in one way or another.
An eerie and extremely entertaining show, that would appeal to fans of the Gothic aesthetic. I could imagine a collaboration between the Ghost Quartet musicians and filmmaker Tim Burton. It would be certainly a fruitful and successful partnership!