Dandy Darkly struts onstage, in all his sparkly splendor and starts to tell his stories about the Gaybird Steamer train in his mellifluous voice! These are no ordinary stories for Darkly is a Southern Gothic Storyteller – this means that he tells vibrant lurid, beautiful stories, crafted with poignant language set to background music. However, Neil Arthur James, who created Dandy Darkly, wrote and performs this solo cabaret show and has taken this definition further to include social justice and LGBTQ elements.
James comes to the San Francisco Fringe Festival direct from performing this new award-winning show for a month at the world renowned Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August 2018, where he received critical acclaim. Dandy Darkly’s Myth Mouth! his show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and last year’s San Francisco Fringe, garnered equal critical acclaim.
The visual onstage is fascinating! A multicolored curtain with shiny images, a small table covered in gold fabric, lit tea candles, framed photographs and a slim vase with curvy dry flowers – it’s as if we are visiting Dandy Darkly in his curious domain. It should also be noted that Darkly wears one of the best costumes ever – with no detail too small – a shimmery gold catsuit, designer train conductor jacket with white ruffles at the neck and wrists, plus gold epaulets and tassels, a few diamanté accoutrements including spiders, tall platform shoes and a stylish train conductor’s hat with a band of emerald and black sequins – simply magnificent! He is a vision to behold and a one man carnival in the excitement he generates through his highly skilled performance!
In the stories we meet characters with names like Lil Biscuit (aka Darnell) and Colonel Cornelius Cracker and Nimby Cracker. Lil Biscuit who is sensitive about how he looks is warned about ghosts as he does chores for the blustery Cracker. A tragic Halloween story is so poignant and James gently and pointedly ends it in a quivering soft almost whispered voice “a little girl died inside that little boy.”
James’ writing of every story is lyrical and poetic. The rhythmic pace is apparent when James describes Darnell being chased by a ghost combined with outstanding movement and vocal emphasis.
His movement is rippling, expansive and varies with few repetitive gestures, which is testament to the amount of detail James puts into the development of his work. One very effective split second gestural sequence is when James open a champagne bottle – Click, click and then adds quick abstract minimal angular hand gestures to suggest several photographs. Blink and you may miss some of this performer’s artistry!
Beautiful and moody music, which becomes more complex as the show progresses, with minor tones and discordant notes (piano merged with electronic sound) underscores the performance very effectively. What is even more special is how the timing and sound effects are almost like an additional character because of its outstanding synchronicity with James’ spoken words.
James – or rather Darkly – regales us with his fluid storytelling and adds depth to his subjects with asocial justice theme by including searing commentary about economic reality, supply and demand, and greed. He is an activist storyteller cabaret performer and in his artistic way is not afraid to make his points heard. Consumerism comes up in a bizarre story about Lollibots – the “creepy assed toy of the 80s!” James tells this story with robotic movement that gets whacky and political – very effective! He ends this section in an elegant way with macabre imagery. A story is about Nimby Cracker and the vestigial twins, accompanied by lullaby music and is very psensitively written and told.
James has a resonant voice, large, powerful and tender – and he knows how to use it with skill to evoke the atmosphere and make his points in his show. He wants the world to get along and he uses his wit, creativity and writing – he tries to find good in this world and draws attention to the bad in his tales. He is narrator, eccentric emcee and he becomes all the characters with astounding specificity. Dandy Darkly’s All Aboard! is a deliciously provocative, cynical, creative, poignant, entertaining, uplifting and impactful show. Do not miss it!
Originally published in www.FringeReview.co.uk