The Tap Gallery is the perfect place to see a Fringe show – a little offbeat, a little makeshift, but full of creative energy and clear artistic purpose. Decadence fits nicely into the downstairs theatre space and the avant-garde vibe of that space by never quite coming down from its first impression: bizarre.
A scarcely performed play by Steven Berkoff, Decadence is a power-play set in the 80s and happens to be written entirely in verse. This is a gimmick that never stops feeling gimmicky, though you are, about a quarter-way through the piece, lulled into the melody of it all, the rise and fall of inflection, like a pleasant hum. If some of the words are lost in the overall sensation of the rhyme, well, you hardly mind.
Helen (Katherine Shearer) and Steve (Rowan McDonald) are having an affair; Steve’s wife, Sibyl (also Katherine Shearer) has hired a private dick Les (also Rowan McDonald) to investigate. It’s the latter couple that are the more interesting pair by far, not least because McDonald does his best acting work here, with a perfectly delightful Northern accent to contrast the upper-class London pronunciation of the other three characters. It makes a point within the script, of classism and Thatcherism and all sorts of isms, but what it also does is liven up this tiny, tiny stage and better project the humor and edge of the piece. Indeed, McDonald is the beating heart of this production.
Decadence is the kind of play that’s perfect for the Fringe. It’s experimental, it’s boldly political, and it suits a couch and nothing else for in the prop department. It suits recycled 80s fashion, because it’s set in the period. It suits two actors regaling you with verse for just over 90 minutes. It’s an interesting programming decision because the play itself is interesting.
That it’s interesting is the best thing Decadence has going for it – but that’s not a bad thing.