Here's an adventure for Fringe-goers who have tired of the usual poky Portakabins and echoey lecture halls. The Bitter Belief of Cotrone the Magician begins with a bus ride from outside Edinburgh's Waverley station to Hawes pier in South Queensferry. From here, intrigued and windswept punters are bundled on to a tourist ferry, the Forth Belle, with tartan-upholstered seats and a bar selling carrot cake, and transported across the choppy-ish waters of the Firth of Forth to a "mystery island" half an hour away. Seal-spotting en route is optional.
It's glorious to be out of the city and the location, Inchcolm Island, home to a splendid 12th-century abbey and flocks of seagulls, is stunning. It was last used during the festival for a production of Macbeth 20 years ago. Now it's playing host to Cotrone the Magician and a reworking of Pirandello's unfinished art fantasy The Mountain Giants.
We're told on the boat over that Cotrone is a sorcerer who arrived on the uninhabited isle in 1965. Once there we're handed ponchos and seated on hay bales as Cotrone, a grey-haired Italian recluse with a mouth-organ and a skeleton inside his cloak shuffles out to meet us. Over the hour, he conjures up all manner of strange creatures – a gilt-laden countess, a tragic naked woman, animated puppets, a wizened crone strewing flowers and a minstrel with a bird cage on his head. It makes even less sense than a Cirque du Soleil plot.
The cast create gorgeous tableaux (the costumes are breathtaking), and the atmosphere – helped by a tight live band and ever-wailing gulls – is eerily memorable. But it's all rather uninvolving and utterly baffling. Great set, though.
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