Six Black Candles

Des Dillon
Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh
(2004)

Six Black Candles is, primarily, about six sisters and how they fight back against men - only in this case, the eyes through which the audience sees the action belong to the sisters' brother. Not that Des Dillon himself is a character in the play, but it seems more than a little possible that Dillon's portrayal of the six sisters (who, it seems from the programme, are directly based on the sisters he grew up with) is highly coloured by his relationship to them.

The first act flew by, partly because it's not until about halfway through it that all six sisters show up. By the time this happens, though, we've already been introduced to the major players: Caroline (Kathryn Howden), the jilted one; Donna (Gabriel Quigley), the Goth one; Geddy (Julie Duncanson), the promiscuous one; and Wendy (Jennifer Black) the posh one. Two more sisters, Angie (Wendy Seager), the rough one, and Linda (Gayanne Potter), the disabled one, arrive, but while the other four sisters have a chance to build up personalities that may contradict the initial one-word impressions the audience receives of them, the script gives little depth to Angie and Wendy over the course of the play.

Six Black Candles certainly doesn't suffer from a dearth of characters; along with the six sisters the audience also meets Maw (Anne Downie) and Granny (Eileen McCallum), along with the ineffective, blustering Father Boyle (Mark McDonnell) and Caroline's husband, the no-good, cheating Bobby (Gavin Kean).

While the first four sisters and their grandmother establish the emotional spine of the play, and the priest serves as the butt of the play's best joke, the other characters at times seem a little superfluous - and in Bobby's case, downright unnecessary, since he's far scarier before he bursts onto the set.

Between Designer Becky Minto and Lighting Designer Fleur Woolford, the stage swings between being a mundane council flat (and a very realistic one, at that) to a smoke-filled den of witchery and intrigue. These mood shifts are essential to the play and blur the lines between fantasy and reality, making one wonder: does Dillon's play take place in the real world, or is this some kind of make-believe plane of existence where a voodoo curse actually has a chance of working?

Like John Byrne's The Slab Boys trilogy, Six Black Candles is an intense look at being down-and-out in Scotland, but unlike Byrne's plays, this one has far more humanity toward all its characters, and if a few of the characters don't get full treatment by the script, at least they take on a certain amount of life via Mark Thompson's direction and the work of the actors playing them. Dillon's obviously deep sympathies for his sisters, mother, and grandmother are apparent, though in some ways this works against the play, making it hard to accept that these women are capable of the actions they're apparently taking.

The theme of six sisters working together may seem like an uplifting one, and the play is certainly full of times at which laughter is unavoidable, but the picture the audience is left with in the end is a decidedly bleak one; it makes one wonder where Dillon has seen his own sisters end up.

Hopefully, in a far better place than his characters.

"Six Black Candles" is playing at Edinburgh's Royal Lyceum Theatre from 12th March to 3rd April, 2004.

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Reviewer: Rachel Lynn Brody