Wow. Following the industry for a while now, the same names keep popping up – Urban Death being one of them. As it’s an LA-based production, we’ve unfortunately had scant opportunity to experience the show thus far. That was until it was announced that Urban Death would be coming to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was the sole reason we made the five-hour train journey up from London. We managed to chuck a few other things onto the schedule but, make no mistake, this was the reason why we made the trip.
And, man, it did not disappoint! We always deliberately post our reviews a couple of days after the fact because we’ve found that a true test of a show’s quality is how it lingers with you in the following days. This one’s well and truly stuck! And if anything, it becomes more powerful as your memories enhance that ethereal, nightmarish quality that pervaded throughout the show’s runtime.
It’s going to be hard to adequately convey what unfolded – the most succinct way of describing Urban Death is that it’s a waking nightmare. There’s no conventional plot, simply a flash of narratively disconnected, dialogue-free scenes depicting all manner of monstrosities. And they ran the gamut from the fantastical through to disturbing, real-life horrors. The ebb and flow of these scenes was masterful with tonally conflicting vignettes following each other. This measured balance sometimes gave a very welcome reprieve from the heavier moments!
We’re not going to give a breakdown of the show as we feel it’s best discovered for yourself. Go in as blind as you possibly can, you’ll be all the better for it! But, the moment that we knew this show was special came relatively early on – the lights dipped as the previous scene concluded and when the lights came back on we were treated to a family portrait; a father, mother, and daughter bearing the most exaggerated smiles. The kitschy music complemented their expressions, imbuing the whole thing with an unavoidable sense of ludicrousness. And then something very subtle happened and our own smiles suddenly gave way to guilt. We shouldn’t find this funny and, as this family’s story revealed itself (all in the space of about 20/25 seconds with the actors remaining in place), the atmosphere in the room shifted. Their OTT grins betrayed what was really taking place and said something about turning a blind eye.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom though with some humorous social commentary, a piece involving a selfie immediately comes to mind. Every moment had something to say. And not just about what was taking place but how we, as the audience, reacted to the unfolding horrors.
And then, there were the technical achievements of the show. The musical score was beautifully erratic, flitting between low, industrial droning and moments of pure whimsy – sometimes complementing, sometimes contrasting what was in front of us. It was an integral part of the production, as much of a character as those that were on the stage.
Equally impressive was what they achieved on the stage considering that there was no set at all. It makes perfect sense, Urban Death doesn’t keep still. I doubt we were with any particular scene longer than a minute. The content of the show necessitates that there’s no set and minimal props. It would be transforming every minute. But, that didn’t stop the cast and crew simply using light and the black curtains backing the stage to pull off all manner of physical accomplishments. There was an extremely chilling moment towards the end involving a lot of hands that was as technically stunning as it was disturbing!
Finally, the cast. Despite each scenario being under a minute long, Urban Death demanded a lot from its troupe. With no spine or continuing plot, the actors traversed the full spectrum of emotions – jumping from one disparate scene to another. To see everyone handle this effortlessly and also communicate their stories lacking typical crutches such as a physical set or dialogue is to be commended. If they weren’t up to everything that Urban Death asked of them, the entire thing would’ve collapsed within minutes.
In short, we just flat out loved this one. The episodic nature of the hour worked brilliantly for us, constantly keeping things moving and fresh. This is one that you absolutely owe it to yourself to attend if you’re anywhere near it!
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+ Moments that confronted the audience
We would highly recommend paying a visit to Urban Death - some of it may be a little controversial but as long as you aren't easily offended, you'll have a memorable experience!
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