Review from: Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe; 6th August 2019
This is one of those shows perfectly suited to it’s opulent Spiegeltent setting, which strengthens Tarot’s jazz club opium den boudoir feel. A troupe of nameless players strut before us, waiting to take their instructions from the mistress of the tarot. The premise is simple: two audience volunteers receive a live tarot reading, and the players perform movement sequences corresponding to the chosen cards, while a live band also play a repertoire determined by the card selection.
The band are absolutely fabulous. The composer is Ben Smith – last seen in All Genius All Idiot – who also sings, drawing on a rich range of vocal styles with great style and panache. We’re told the band is called Yoshi but I sadly can’t find them online. If I could I’d buy the album in a flash.
The mistress is Tessa Blackman, confident as both hostess and card reader, amusingly camp as she spins her dreamlike tales of spiritual mythos (although this style of delivery comes off as a bit overly esoteric during the readings, played for the crowd more than for the audience participant).
There are other niggles too. The costumes seem to be made from bedazzled eBay finds, and lose their glamour in the Spiegeltent’s close proximity; the narrated stories are rather hard to follow; the balance between the conceit of selecting performance material by chance and the production choices to make transitions into these segments slick like magic leaves me doubting the reality of the situation. Pre-recorded descriptions of each chosen card play the instant its image is revealed, presumably lined up by a button on a computer somewhere out of sight. Large illustrations of the card’s design are placed like clockwork into an onstage frame. A little more access to the liveness of the chance and a little less enforced mystique might be helpful.
The studied presentation of Bohemian Mystery feels rather self-conscious, and the acrobatics and aerial transitions feel under-rehearsed. There are some excellent physical performers in this company but this is not the best vehicle for their talents (faces I recognise include Imogen Huzel – founding member of Fauna – and Josh Frazer – who was part of The Penguin & I, as well as the debut Feathers of Daedalus show, Coppelia). There are too many wobbles, near misses and collisions that are studiously ignored.
For all its faults, however, Tarot is an interesting show. It has ideas but needs to hone them. At ten past eleven at the end of a four show day of Fringe reviewing, I don’t find myself flagging at any point while watching. The tarot is a game, we are reminded at the beginning, and the chance to consider our own relation to the fortunes read is fun. As I’m walking home after the show I realise the people walking in front of me are chatting about the production. Turns out it’s the two volunteers comparing notes on their experience, and both seem really enthused, animatedly analysing the eerie accuracies of their readings.
The Feathers of Daedalus director, Joanna Vymeris, hasn’t attended to detail in Tarot the way we saw with Coppélia, but I’d love to see where this new show could end up with more rigorous attention.