Faust at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh


It is often difficult to find something to do on Halloween that doesn’t involve excessive amounts of alcohol and outfits that would be deemed offensive at any other time of the year. However, once again the Usher Hall provides the perfect cultural alternative for this day of horrors.

As part of an evening of entertainment, it opened its doors to a freak show of gangsters, dolls, devils and time lords befitting their 1920s horror theme. As guests were welcomed with a live jazz band playing tunes of the time, they were left to soak up the atmosphere in the great building before heading on to the main hall for the warm up act.

Here, Scott Smith – a local musician and illusionist – dazzled the audience through his combination of séance, hypnotism and a thoroughly impressive final reveal which shocked and wowed his spectators in equal measure. Creating a suitably frightening atmosphere, he managed to chill his audience by convincing them that a young girl who died at the Cambridge Street School – the building which lay where the Usher Hall now stands – was trying to send messages from beyond the grave. Smith’s authoritative performance set up the evening perfectly for the main act.

F.W. Murnau’s Faust is one of the true classics of the silent era. A tale as much about morality as a disturbing story of what happens when a man sells his soul to the devil, it remains timeless in its ability to affect the viewer. With cinematography that is nothing short of exquisite for the period, its opening sequence featuring the four horsemen of the apocalypse is still just as haunting today.

It was, however, Donald Mackenzie’s organ recital that stole the show. With an original score composed by himself and loosely based on the original accompaniment and a selection of well known hymns, it brought gusto and gravitas to the piece, creating an incredibly eery and absorbing mood that brought to mind what cinema was truly meant to be.

For the alternative Halloween evening this ticked all the right boxes, allowing for a night to remember, and one to definitely recommend.

Taken from The Student, published online Sat Nov 5th 2011.

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