The Devil Without

“Dare you see the devil in you?” asks the flyer for “master mentalist and mystery performer” Ian Harvey Stone’s Edinburgh Fringe show, promising a “Faustian mix of storytelling, magic, horror and interactive theatre.” The grand setting, the India Buildings of Victoria Street, its multi-storeyed stone façade dating to the eighteenth century, topped with a magnificent dome around which balconies look down on the floor below, and on a dark night, the wind and rain howling outside, what better way to escape the elements than to face the darkness of the supernatural?

Even before entering, the audience are asked to sign a release form and warned that the performance will contain infrasound (extreme low frequency noise, felt rather than heard, which reportedly inspires feelings of awe or fear in some individuals), binaural beats (purported to induce relaxation and enhance creativity) and neurolinguistic (the field of psychology which examines the mechanisms by which the brain processes language) suggestion; the immediate impression is that this show will impress itself upon the senses in ways which cannot consciously be comprehended, sidestepping critical faculties and tapping directly into responses in the primeval recesses of the mind.

As the lights dim and the host of the evening shuffles into the spotlight, his tie half undone, hair unkempt and raincoat grubby, ghosts clamouring for his attention, he introduces himself as John Faust, but as he invites those gathered to tap into the national grid of consciousness as they dream together before mentioning that he has recently given up smoking (herbal fags not doing the trick, “like dust from a new age bookshelf”) it is apparent that the only ghost in the room is that of John Constantine.

Demonstrating the simplest of his powers to gain the trust of the audience, Faust claims that he is five hundred years old and hiding from demons before asking that absolute faith is placed in him as he pours a circle of salt on the floor, saying that if demonic attack comes he must be obeyed immediately and without question; only then can the evening proceed.

The success of The Devil Without as a piece of immersive theatre will vary wildly not only from performance to performance but for each individual, their susceptibility to suggestion, their willingness to be led and to believe, their capacity for fear of the dark, the unknown, the unexplained; as a rational sceptic with a strong scientific background and a great deal of performance experience, this particular reviewer is regrettably ill suited to appraise how the show will play to those blessed with the dubious gift of unfettered credulity.

With the lighting set low to aid the illusion of magic, there is too much patter and not enough event to fill the hour, the high expectation set by the preamble unfulfilled by the payoff. Given considerable development both of the script and Harvey’s stage technique and crucially less obvious plants within the audience assisting him, The Devil Without could cross within the circle and become a hugely entertaining late night show, but for now this ambitious but underwhelming offering breaks the Faustian bargain made on the flyer.

The Devil Without continues until Monday 25th August



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