Dr Quimpugh’s Compendium of Peculiar Afflictions, Summerhall

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Originally written for Fest Magazine.

Treading the line somewhere between opera and musical theatre, this strange little piece by Martin Ward and Phil Porter concerns legacy and what it means to make the most of a life. Nearing the end of his days, the eponymous Dr Quimpugh worries about what he is leaving behind, prompting his two nurses to remind him of his life’s work and trigger a musical skip down memory lane.

The doctor’s speciality, it emerges, is odd and unusual ailments. As hallucinatory memories form before him in his study, the piece takes us back through a category of increasingly bizarre complaints, from one woman whose hand has a mind of its own to another determined to eat every object she can lay her hands on. Embarrassing Bodies has nothing on Dr Quimpugh’s clientele.

A musical freak show of sorts, this succession of strangeness muddles on with little purpose. Peculiar it certainly is, but even peculiarity can become dull. While Ward’s score is skilfully sung by the cast, accompanied by a trio of onstage musicians, the eccentric charm that the piece reaches for remains just out of its grasp.

Despite this, there is something intriguing and potentially moving about the piece’s central question; as Quimpugh despairingly sings, “what will they write on my grave?” the doctor doubts the worth of a career essentially fed by the misfortune of others, questioning the value of the knowledge he has accrued. It is just a shame that such questions are not more engagingly interrogated.

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