I’m not sure what it is about this period of history that inspires such vivid storytelling – some of it of questionable quality. With Jethro Compton’s The Rattlesnake’s Kiss, we’re not patronised with clichéd cowboys and bad accents. It’s dynamic and captivating from the word go, and we are thrown violently into the wild world of the American West.
Fringe performance spaces don’t get much better than this. The show takes place in a purpose-built wooden shed, headed by a glowing cross. And we’re seated on hard wooden benches – a logistical nightmare – but it is perfect to immerse us into this world. When the performance begins, we’re completely enclosed on both sides of the traverse. Not only is this set absolutely beautiful, but it fits perfectly with the prison-like quality of gangs in the West. It even feels like a desert, given the furnace-like temperature of most Fringe venues (I’ll keep telling myself that this was a creative choice). The set of The Rattlesnake’s Kiss is what elevates this production to a level of higher quality, especially given that the storyline alone isn’t overly original.
This is not to say that we get bored, though. As with most Westerns, the story comes vibrantly alive in those climactic archetypal scenes of suspense. Here, it’s when the ruthless leader of a corrupt drug cartel confronts our protagonist in the depths of a mine. This entire scene is performed in total darkness and we’re momentarily blinded. This attention to detail is perfect for The Rattlesnake’s Kiss’s storytelling.
The only slightly disappointing thing is the portrayal of our only female character, Elena. She’s referred to as ‘fair’ and ‘sweet’ but makes some ruthless, fatal decisions – the reasoning behind which is never truly delved into. However, this is 1800s America and not all female characters can be overtly feisty just for the sake of it. It’s not as if Elena is a cardboard cut out character, she just has the potential to be more dimensional, and she remains just a tad too elusive. Her male counterparts, on the other hand, are much more complex.
Jethro Compton knows exactly what works and what doesn’t – naturally, given that he is no novice to bringing shows to Edinburgh. It’s not surprising then, that The Rattlesnake’s Kiss turns out to be a highly polished production, more polished than your average Fringe show.
Jethro Compton’s Frontier Trilogy: The Rattlesnake’s Kiss is playing at C Nova (venue 145) until August 31. For more information, visit the Fringe website.