Thursday, 14 August 2014

Edinburgh Medical Detectives, at the Royal College of Physicians, Edinburgh Fringe 2014


By Laura King

It is always a must for this Fringe reviewer to fit in a few genuinely Scottish gigs and events each visit and as a big Sherlock Holmes (and thus Dr Joseph Bell) fan, Edinburgh Medical Detectives caught my eye.

In the spectacular setting of the Great Hall in the Royal College Of Physicians, the illustrious scientist and raconteur Professor David Purdie joined forces with College Librarian Iain Milne to offer a riveting and entertaining slice of archive history.

You might not think this belongs on a predominantly comedy site. However, seen through the lens of the past, the perils of finding enough legitimate bodies for the dissection classes and the lengths gone to to protect the dead, the feuds between leading medics and the almost-rejection of chloroform as a useful substance to enable painless surgery owing to snobbery and medical rivalry have a surprising capacity to entertain.

Then there was the revelation of regicide in the middle of Edinburgh and how this came to be uncovered centuries before forensic medicine had even been thought of, or even the pioneering "medical police".

We were also exposed to the dark side of the age of enlightenment, where crime might have a blind eye turned if it led to medical breakthrough.

Edinburgh's medical pioneers were not merely pioneers of Edinburgh, but the world. This was the exciting place young Arthur Conan Doyle found himself in to undertake his medical training. And while he decided that being a doctor was not for him, he still derived the lifelong inspiration that we all came to know and love as Sherlock Holmes from the city.

The dark humour will remain with me for a long time to come. Superb edu-tainment! 

*****

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