Riley's freakshow is the setting for Lynda Radley's poignant drama with underlying allegorical significance.
Beautifully recreated on stage by designer Colin Richmond, the travelling show is the home to half a dozen of society's cast-offs. Separating themselves from the disliked "townies", this enclosed community has its own hierarchy depending on the degree of authenticity of disability.
At one end of the scale is Marketa, a rather haughty bearded woman with no arms played by Irene MacDougall. At the other comes the man-made mermaid Serena (Natalie Wallace).
Times are hard as this kind of entertainment has been superseded so that the popularity of half man-half woman George/Georgina, Tiny the fattest man in the world and Siamese twins Lillie and Millie has deteriorated to the point where Robert Paterson's character is disappearing fast because there is no money to pay for his three meals a meal.
John Buick as Riley believes that homogeneity is the solution. He therefore wants Tiny to slim, Marketa to shave, the twins to be separated and George/Georgina to have half a sex change, although he is not too fussed which half.
The moral and ethical problems that this policy throws up or explored throughout the one and three-quarter hours, as each performer is given their own opportunity to explore their past and potential future.
Ultimately, Riley's social engineering seems unlikely either to make any of his charges happy, nor to provide a solid financial future for them or for himself.
The acting is uniformly of a very high standard, with Lesley Hart playing George/Georgina and Robert Paterson making a startling transformation from fat to thin particularly striking. So too is the choreography between Ashley Smith and Nicola Roy as the twins.
Depending upon outlook, this could be seen as a microcosm of what is happening in the arts today or maybe society as a whole. Talent and novelty are sacrificed to familiarity and simplicity with money the only measure of success.
As a result, we should all take notice of the sad message presented by this co-production between the Traverse Theatre Company and the Dundee Rep Ensemble under the direction of Dominic Hill, who has at different times been Artistic Director of both.
Reviewer: Philip Fisher