Smug in its own sense of indulgent hedonism, Bonenkai tries really hard to be outrageous. But its desperation to be as debauched as possible doesn’t leave much in the way of plot.
The story largely centres around the blossoming romance between Fitz (Stan Hodgson) and new girl on the scene Bea (Alexandra Tahnée). Violet’s (Meghan Doyle) jealousy elicits some laughs, but it is difficult to feel any sorrow for the tragic Fitz because we don’t know him, and we never get to. Bonenkai’s profundity is sacrificed for cheap thrills, and it leaves the characters feeling half-formed and hard to relate to.
There is no doubt though that the songs are catchy and the cast is talented. Michael Blair as the stony-faced Sol is an impressive guitarist, and Maria Crocker does an admirable job at portraying the troubled Tilly. There are some really good moments of both singing and acting from all involved, and it might be easy to get caught up in the punchy chords and powerful vocal feats of Bonenkai were it not for the fact that it’s shallow and difficult to get on board with. It feels as though the real potential to shock and titillate us is hiding behind the music. Unfortunately the venue is too big for their sound to fill, and what was intended to be a crazy party just ends up feeling a little lukewarm.
The cast has a good aesthetic – white faces, black and red costumes, it’s very gothic and sexy. And they perform well as the lecherous freaks that inhabit Club Bonenkai, with fearless performances in particular from George Williams as the Big Man and Alice Blundell as The Wife. What would be good to see from the Letter Room would be further character development and a more nuanced storyline to go along with its flair for performing and its considerable musical talents.
Bonenkai plays at Underbelly Cowgate until 24 August 2014 as part of the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information and tickets, visit the EdFringe website.