Ten Plagues, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

5.00

An account of the London plague is a strong choice of subject for a song cycle, and this Traverse production is already a festival highlight and a triumph for the singer Marc Almond, writer Mark Ravenhill, composer Conor Mitchell and director-designer Stewart Laing.

Drawing on snippets of Samuel Pepys' diaries and Daniel Defoe's Journal of the Plague Year, Ravenhill wrote 10 short passages about spring, a man in a wig, a private passion, grief and so on, culminating in: "I am as an Israelite when Ten Plagues infect the land I live..."

Almond, forsaking the sneering cool of his days in Soft Cell, becomes a man possessed by fear, shock, anger and a deep, abiding sense of pain. The music is anguished and hard-edged, played on a single treated piano by Bob Broad with a magnificent series of thumping chords as Almond is transported from the pits of the dead in 1665, where he sees the face of his lover, to the bustling city landscape of workers and red buses.

The stage is set as if for an oratorio, 15 illuminated music stands across the front and an upper area where Finn Ross's videos are projected: scenes of Hamlet with a skull, writhing bodies, burning night and blazing sunlight as "the dead are screaming still".

Almond, in black with some glinting jewellery, a pleated skirt and a visible tattoo, seems effortlessly to inhabit two worlds, of tragedy both large-scale (100,000 people died in 1665) and specific. And there is a stunning coup near the end, when you think you can hear a chorus beneath Almond's voice and then they are suddenly manifest (I won't reveal how), urging him, and us, to learn a new dance, sing a new song.

Running at one hour, this is the best theatrical song cycle since Don Black and Andrew Lloyd Webber's Tell Me On A Sunday. Almond, like other pop idols – Damon Albarn, Jarvis Cocker, Brett Anderson, Rufus Wainwright – is proving his innate talent all over again, in different and challenging ways.

He has to sing in a sort of expressive sprechtgesang, with few outlets for sweet melodiousness of expansive lyricism. But when those moments come, they are genuinely beautiful and hard won. He laments the death of others but hopes that he will survive.

Like so many of his generation, Almond has endured his own occupational hazards. If you come through years of drugs and drink, and see friends and lovers die of Aids-related illnesses, you might have a special feeling for the fate of those who had no control over their lives. And so it proves.

To 28 August (0131 228 1404)

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    10 best high-end laptops

    10 best high-end laptops

    From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

    The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

    The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
    Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

    After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum