Dystopian future visions are so popular in older children’s culture these days that it’s a wonder that pre-teens don’t all run away and live in the woods, the better to escape their near-certain doom. This promenade performance for children of nine and up gives the trend a welcome feminist twist: a charismatic patriarch runs a facility for “vocal cleansing”, which takes girls' and young women’s voices and purges them of their less agreeable elements, such as moans, cries and shouts.
Guiding us through the sterile corridors and laboratories are the patriarch’s Girl Guide-y daughter and two Stepford Wife-like assistants, who pertly repeat their boss’s various mantras about clean voices, quiet voices and “aural filth”. The production design is truly impressive, with every room of Summerhall’s labyrinthine basement transformed into something otherworldly and convincing. There are some memorably creepy and powerful images, as in the section in which a young audience member repeats a nursery rhyme into an industrial-looking tube, before having her glowing, sprite-like “voice” stretched and scrubbed behind a glass screen.
As the plot turns and things start to go wrong, some problems emerge with the script and characterisation. Crawford Logan as Dr Mackenzie lacks the appropriate menace for a really good villain, and the speed with which the female characters find their voices and screw up their courage against him stretches credulity given the oppressive, totalitarian setup. The target audience could have handled something more subtle and perhaps darker still. But as an introduction to immersive theatre it’s pretty much exemplary, and it will give girls in the process of finding their voices plenty to think about.