“You got a lotta nerve, Jethro Compton, riding into this here town with not one but three shows under your belt.”
The quips of the saloon are contagious after Blood Red Moon, one part of Compton’s Frontier Trilogy (the producer’s third undertaking of the kind at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival) set against formative events during the American Civil War. This outing grabs the tail end of the California Gold Rush, with two brothers seeking a new way of life in the West.
Such hope is immediately dashed, as the impressively built-in chapel set in the C nova Studio is breached by younger sibling Levi (Jonathan Mathews), asking the blind priest Manoah (Chris Huntly-Turner) for forgiveness. The clergyman warns of a blood moon in the sky, an omen of imminent death.
You couldn’t miss the red flags if you tried, signalling a tragedy that’s predictable from the outset. But there’s revelation in Mathews’ salt-of-the-earth cowboy; where the production basks in the banjo strains of a marketable ‘Wild West’, the actor serves Compton’s pastoral, if overly purple, dialogue as if trying to invest the genre with new properties.
Big brother Enoch is played by a robust Sam Donnelly, slamming the wooden surfaces of the room to throw the crowd into alarm. His slick skating of the drama can’t hold up the twists of the plot though, containing too many poker games between a shotgun wedding and a dual (of course). Navigating these turns is a lot of work, and you’d almost wish the players would be left to deal without the persistent pining notes of Jonny Sims’s music.
The churchly setting alludes to Compton’s biblical inspiration but the real subject is capital. There is fine playing in the warped relationship between brothers, as well as Bebe Sanders’s stately turn as the maid Annelise. Together they spin the action towards a stunning finale, a theatrical blast of gunpowder.