Edinburgh Review: Silent Cannonfire

JASON FORBES goes twice & on aggregate decides it’s ‘one of the most absurd, fun, original and anarchic performances of the Fringe’

and Chrystal Ding cannonfire canonfire Chloe Mashiter Emerald Paston Emma Stirling Florence Carr George Potts Hannah Laurence John Haidar Julia Leijola Matt Lim Max Levine Pierre Novellie pirates silent silent cannonfire Stephen Bailey Will Seaward

Edinburgh Fringe: Zoo Roxy

Written and Directed by Will Seaward

If, out in the dark backward and abysm of the open sea, a cannon is fired and there is no one there to hear it (never mind there being someone there to set it alight in the first place) did it make a sound? In the topsy-turvy world of Silent Cannonfire, to which many of our own laws of physics do not pertain, probably not. In this world the play’s name is no more an oxymoron than the company’s (“Of Vast Bigness”) is a tautology. In this world, sailors, mutinous pirates, devious whores, cannibals, an evil captain, and a well-intentioned imperialist, if ever there was one, play out their noiseless existences to the musical accompaniment of a couple of violin and accordion-wielding mermen.  One of the most absurd, fun, original and anarchic performances of the Fringe, Silent Cannonfire had me smiling and giggling helplessly all the way through—on both occasions.

That’s right, I saw it twice. Perhaps because I am a little too forgiving.  A cross between Victoria Wood’s send-up of Crossroads in Acorn Antiques and Michael Frayn’s, Noises Off (a farcical comedy set in the tumultuous backstage, whilst a fictional performance takes place onstage) the company will probably agree that the first night was an utter shambles. Forgive me for not counting, but Legend has it that the show incorporates and relies upon over 200 props (the Kraken alone sported some four or five tentacles), including cannons, sabres, scrolls, casks and handwritten captions, which narrate the scene and supplement the absence of dialogue.

No surprise, then, that when I arrived to find half of these missing, I was utterly bewildered as to what on earth was going on. The story seemed sporadic and unclear, and the ensemble eventually resorted to indeterminable miming and mouthing to little avail. Yet still they pressed on, their togetherness adamantine, and it was clear that this must have been a good show let down by a curable bout of first-night calamity.

Thank God I saw it again. The calamity had subsided, and the remedy shed light upon a lustrous gem. As far as piratical adventures go, the tale made no compromises—unpaid debts and unreturned favours, old loves, new loves, sex, blood, sweat, tears, death and a bit of making merry in between. The play’s only shortfall was its neglect to exploit the full potential of the visual and physical: there was the odd superfluous gesture that served little more than to advance the plot or pass the time, and some delightful moments of physical humour might have been better homed in on. Otherwise, it had a certain, endearing anarchy about it. The thing was, quite literally, a bloody riot.

(The cast was Pierre Novellie, Max Levine, Emma Stirling, Florence Carr, Matt Lim, Emerald Paston, Hannah Laurence, George Potts, John Haidar, Chloe Mashiter, Stephen Bailey, Julia Leijola, and Chrystal Ding.)

Read Toby Jones’ review of the Cambridge run here.