Theatre preview: Heavy Like The Weight Of A Flame @ Underbelly, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

As you sit on the train on your way to or from work, let me ask you a question. Have you ever wanted to give it all up and go travelling? Leave behind the stressful job, extortionate bills and mundane routines for a life of excitement on the road? My assumption is that you and many others have.

However, R. Ernie Silva had more reason than most to dream such dreams. Born and raised with 13 siblings in an urban environment of crime, poverty and squalor – specifically the Bushwick neighbourhood of Brooklyn, New York City – he’d learned to use the arts to transcend his blighted surroundings.

The literature of Jack Kerouac, the comedy of Richard Pryor and the music of Jimi Hendrix provided Silva with an important element of escapism while he was growing up there, but it was when his brother fatally overdosed on heroin in prison that it was definitely time to leave.

After rolling a dice to make sure he was making the right decision, Silva picked up his guitar and hopped on a freight train bound for the heartland of America. Over the following months, he shared many enlightening conversations with other travellers, spent time in a small town jail and experienced an epiphany on a mountain top.

Admittedly, it sounds like a tale we’ve been told by Hollywood time and time again. Except on this occasion, it’s its being told through a blend of stand-up comedy and theatre far, far away from Los Angeles. It will feel different, and accolades from the NYC One Festival and HOLA, as well as an LA Weekly Theatre Award nomination, say so.

‘People have told me a lot of stuff … called me a lot of stuff … mostly I get the world “unique” a lot,’ Silva has said.

‘Inspiring’ is probably another word that will be written and said many times in the same sentence as this engaging autobiographical piece.

Relying as much on the storyteller’s own charisma as it does on its plot, Heavy… witnesses Silva calling upon his skills as a compelling and athletic performer, sketching characters and recalling adventures with a sense of urgency as well as humour.

After spending many months swimming in the murky waters of various American subcultures, Silva has clearly come out cleaner on the other side, and he reflects on his very personal odyssey with a maturity that must surely have only come since his return.

It’ll take no more than ten minutes of your life to walk from Edinburgh Waverley station to see Silva at Underbelly, where you can be sure he’s come a long way further in his to see you.