Review: The Secret Room at the Writers’ Museum ****

Cabaret and Variety

The Secret Room at the Writers’ Museum

Writers’ Museum, Lady Stair’s Close v266

17.30, 19.30 (ends 23 August Wednesdays and Thursdays ONLY)

**** (4 stars)

The Writers’ Museum is in the house known as Lady Stair’s House, built in 1612 and gifted to the city in 1907 by Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, who had the house, which belonged to his family, restored from the parlous state into which it had fallen when all the wealthy folk moved from the Old Town to the New in the 18th century. It was restored in the ‘old baronial’ style, and isn’t really representative of what such houses would have looked like when originally occupied – you need to go to nearby Gladstone’s Land to see that. However, it’s a fascinating house which is well worth visiting when it’s not being used for Fringe shows – there’s more than enough to see to keep you occupied for a very long time.

Tonight we got to visit the Stevenson, the Scott, and the Burns rooms – that’s Robert Louis, Sir Walter, and Rabbie – to see magicians demonstrating their skills in entertainments that gave more than a nod to the famous writer whose room they were occupying. Adam, in the Burns Room, mixed roses, famous poems, and some less-brilliant poetry of his own to puzzle us, and then demonstrated dazzling skill with not one but two Rubik’s cubes – I’ve never seen them manipulated to expertly and so rapidly. In the Stevenson Room Jody Greig reminded us of the contrast between the Old and the New Towns and how Robert Louis reflected them in his novel The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He showed us more magic and card tricks – at one point extracting the chosen card from a minute treasure chest – and displayed his mind-reading skills with words chosen from three of Stevenson’s novels.

Each magician was engaging and impressive: the highlight for me was Lewis Barlow’s juxtaposition of Sir Walter Scott’s room and the card-sharping skills of American Walter Irving Scott, who fleeced unwary card players for over twenty years, before writing a small book – The Phantom of the Card Table – in which he revealed [some of] his most impressive tricks. To a background of Scott Joplin rags, which might well have been being played in the saloons in which the un-knighted Scott plied his trade, he demonstrated misdealing, misdirection and card intuition – but however closely we watched, his skills remained magical. He ended with a replication of Scott’s most famous magical demonstration [once he’d stopped sharping and gone public] – while completely blindfolded he correctly named the seven cards picked randomly by one of the audience after Lewis had put on the blindfold.

This is a gentle show in very pleasant surroundings – all close up and with no visible collusion or trickery, simply incomparable skill. The audience is invited both to take part and to marvel, and is also given an excellent incentive to return to the Writers’ Museum for a proper look at its contents.

Mary Woodward

The Writers’ Museum is in the house known as Lady Stair’s House, built in 1612 and gifted to the city in 1907 by Prime Minister Lord Roseberry, who had the house, which belonged to his family, restored from the parlous state into which it had fallen when all the wealthy folk moved from the Old Town to the New in the 18th century. It was restored in the ‘old baronial’ style, and isn’t really representative of what such houses would have looked like when originally occupied – you need to go to nearby Gladstone’s Land to see that. However, it’s a fascinating house which is well worth visiting when it’s not being used for Fringe shows – there’s more than enough to see to keep you occupied for a very long time.

Tonight we got to visit the Stevenson, the Scott, and the Burns rooms – that’s Robert Louis, Sir Walter, and Rabbie – to see magicians demonstrating their skills in entertainments that gave more than a nod to the famous writer whose room they were occupying. Adam, in the Burns Room, mixed roses, famous poems, and some less-brilliant poetry of his own to puzzle us, and then demonstrated dazzling skill with not one but two Rubik’s cubes – I’ve never seen them manipulated to expertly and so rapidly. In the Stevenson Room Jody Greig reminded us of the contrast between the Old and the New Towns and how Robert Louis reflected them in his novel The Strange Tale of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He showed us more magic and card tricks – at one point extracting the chosen card from a minute treasure chest – and displayed his mind-reading skills with words chosen from three of Stevenson’s novels.

Each magician was engaging and impressive: the highlight for me was Lewis Barlow’s juxtaposition of Sir Walter Scott’s room and the card-sharping skills of American Walter Irving Scott, who fleeced unwary card players for over twenty years, before writing a small book – The Phantom of the Card Table – in which he revealed [some of] his most impressive tricks. To a background of Scott Joplin rags, which might well have been being played in the saloons in which the un-knighted Scott plied his trade, he demonstrated misdealing, misdirection and card intuition – but however closely we watched, his skills remained magical. He ended with a replication of Scott’s most famous magical demonstration [once he’d stopped sharping and gone public] – while completely blindfolded he correctly named the seven cards picked randomly by one of the audience after Lewis had put on the blindfold.

This is a gentle show in very pleasant surroundings – all close up and with no visible collusion or trickery, simply incomparable skill. The audience is invited both to take part and to marvel, and is also given an excellent incentive to return to the Writers’ Museum for a proper look at its contents.

Mary Woodward