Magnus Volk's Electric Train Of Thought is a little piece of theatre: only 20 minutes long, performed in a tiny room, for an audience of just a dozen or so. But size isn't everything. There's a lot packed into this miniature package – some local history, some genuine science, and an insight into the character of a late-Victorian pioneer.
If you don't live in Brighton, you might not know about Volk's Electric Railway. It's a curiosity for tourists now; faster than walking but slower than riding a bike, its diminutive carriages trundle back and forth along the eastern sea front between the pier and the marina. In its day, though, it was ground-breaking – and as Liz Tait's compact script explains, in the age of steam, the idea of electric locomotion triggered both excitement and alarm.
Depending on which day you attend, Magnus Volk will be played either by Robert Cohen or Julian Howard McDowell. I had Cohen; he portrays a restless and driven Volk, as highly-charged and energised as his electric inventions. Both actor and writer eloquently express the excitement and opportunity of a new technological era, and the frustration sometimes born of having ideas ahead of your time.
We, the audience, are cast as board members in Volk's railway company – a neat device, which highlights the gap between his grand visions and hard commercial realities. Volk's pioneering enterprise has recently suffered a setback; there's piquancy in the looming shadow of failure, but also quiet comedy in his insistence that all will eventually turn out well.
This is billed as an "immersive" show, but it really, really isn't. The set is cursory, featuring a meagre smattering of antique objects in an otherwise modern conference room. But it's fun to hear the story here, at the Volk's Railway terminus – with an open vista to the beach outside the window, and the modern-day trains just a stone's throw away.
At a fiver for 20 minutes, this isn't the best bang-per-buck you'll find this Fringe, but it's aa quirky a curiosity as Volk's Railway itself. At the end of the play, we're left with an image of a man who wants to be remembered: to take this place alongside the likes of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Sadly for Volk, he never achieved such greatness… but in its own small way, this show helps keep his memory alive.