Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions

Broadway Baby / Michael Wilkinson

Cure For All Ills

Venue Number 26. Summerhall, 1
Summerhall,Edinburgh, EH9 1QH.
17:00. Suitability: 12+.

This new and contemporary chamber opera from Royal Opera House composer Martin Ward and librettist Phil Porter of the RSC tells the story of Farquar Quimpugh, aworld-renowned expert in rare disorders of the mind; what a superb tale it is.

This sublime production is led by Quimpugh, played brilliantly by baritone Robert Gildon. Old and unwell, he revisits the bizarre cases that he came across during his career. Quimpugh is joined by two assistants who nurse him through his ill health, each embodying patients from the doctor’s past, telling their stories with glorious wit. Soprano Natalie Raybould and mezzo-soprano Tamsin Dalley knocked my socks off with their vigorous and lively transformations into various wacky characters, the best being the woman with an alien hand. There are very few occasions in theatre where a show makes you laugh and cry simultaneously and this is one of them. The beautiful synergy between Ward’s music and Porter’s words in My Alien Hand, combined with Raybould’s stunning and poignant portrayal of the poor woman’s affliction, made this the highlight of the show.

Other patients included a crack weasel who fainted at just about every mention of historic objects or architecture, while Dalley played her eccentric Northern mother. Opera sung with a northern accent, now that is worth listening to. She even had specs to rival a 1990s Deirdre Barlow. Then there was the patient that could not stop eating and relied on chewing the leather strap of her handbag as her only distraction from the affliction. Then came the Welshman who screamed at everything and was fired from his job at the library and the man who was a walking-talking corpse, adamant that he had died.

For just a few minutes I was drawn into each of these character’s lives. I felt myself leaning forward in my seat as if to get a little closer to each of them. Before you know it, the patients are gone and Quimpugh is an old man again. He closes the book on a life filled with increasingly bizarre conditions.

[Michael Wilkinson]