Melodic Dystrophy[author-post-rating] (2/5 stars)

The puppetry impresses far more than the writing in this Queen Mary Theatre Company show about a successful actor who is diagnosed with a rare, fast-acting form of muscular dystrophy. The concept of exploring the disintegration of the body via puppetry is a fascinating one, but writer Choy Wai Wan quickly loses his way, doing little with this central idea and instead becoming preoccupied with Ben’s acting career and romantic history. There is actually very little exploration of the illness’s effect on his body, with all consideration of the disease done through dialogue; this seems a waste when have a beautiful, mouthless puppet with which to tell your story.

Hannah Maxwell’s direction is inventive and there are some absolutely gorgeous moments here, but Maxwell’s attitude towards the script seems a little abstracted. There are contradictions between text and performance, like the description of Ben’s late girlfriend as a famous Australian actress, though the performer voicing this puppet performs with a standard RP accent.

There are even contradictions in the script itself, as when we are told that Ben and his partner were both actors who met through the entertainment industry – but a few scenes earlier she turns to him, in a flashback to their first date, and asks him if, by the way, he is that actor from that TV show. It’s not a particularly complicated plot, so these confusions feel particularly unnecessary and seem to denote a lack of care.

Benedict, beloved by press and public alike, but hiding his terminal illness from almost everyone, is racing against time to complete his work on the new series of his hit TV show, Edgar, inexplicably about the life of Edgar Allan Poe. Everyone involved seems to have forgotten that Poe was a) American and b) a bit creepy (sorry, Poe), as the belaboured comparisons between Ben’s dead girlfriend and Poe’s dead wife are full of over-blown romanticism. When you know that Poe married his 13-year-old cousin, it really doesn’t seem like the kind of love story you want to evoke. Oh well.

The team of students are talented puppeteers and work together well as an ensemble, especially in the lighter-hearted sequences, as when a number of decorated sock puppets are used to convey a press conference. Still, it’s hard to get past the cliche-ridden script, especially the mad plot development that Ben’s girlfriend concealed her fatal pneumonia from him because she didn’t want to make him miss the Emmys. It just doesn’t seem all that selfish to assume that your imminent death might be more important to your boyfriend than his success at awards season – after all, the Emmys do come round every year.

An unfortunately banal rendering of a great central idea, Melodic Dystrophy has plenty in here to like but never quite comes together.

Melodic Dystrophy can be seen at 18.05 at theSpace @ Venue 45, every day until 24th August. For more information and tickets, visit: https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/melodic-dystrophy