Theatre review – Dark Land Light House

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore3The scene opens on a tall metal structure and a single figure apparently fixing things. As the audience files in and takes its seats, he carries on – we are irrelevant. All that matters is keeping the lighthouse working and preventing ships from being drawn into the dark land below.

The man is Parcival (Derek Frood) and he has been here alone for ten years. Then Teller (Jessica Macdonald) arrives and takes the helm.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore

This is a story about loneliness in its biggest sense – the human race has dispersed throughout the universe and Teller is very much afraid that we truly are alone. However, as she is about to discover, there is one far more frightening possibility – that we are not alone.

Using footage, haunting lighting, sound and music by North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack, and even smell (courtesy of the dry ice), the play is a mastery of suspense and wonder. Jessica Macdonald is compelling as the woman left to keep the lighthouse working, with only a sentient computer, Hypatia (voiced by Laura Dannequin of Hardy Animal) for company.

Hypatia is a source of much of the wry comedy in the piece, trying out turns of phrase that seem out of place, but have been harvested from each of the preceding lighthouse keepers. There are times, however, when she also adds a thread of horror, not least when she takes too long answer, and then answers: “Sorry, I was reading a book.” Then fumbles and says, no, that’s not right. She was looking at something and now it’s gone.

There’s something deeply chilling about a machine revealing its frailties, particularly when that machine is the only thing standing between you and death.

Dark Land Light House_credit Paul Blakemore2

The dark land itself holds its own menacing presence – threatening, unknown and inexplicably enticing. Parcival calls it a siren. Teller gazes into the audience as she stares at the dark land so we get the full power of her awe face-on.

Jessica MacDonald is superb – she has us enthralled throughout, drawn in by her passion, her humour, and, towards the end, her raw distress. Derek Frood’s rough-edged Parcival is the perfect balance – the moment when they crouch together muttering about the end of the universe isn’t all easy to follow, but the depth of emotion rings true.

 

We believe in these characters and care about Teller’s fate. More than that, though, you may find yourself considering the stars above you, and wondering what you could overcome and what you would give up for the thrill of travelling among them.

Eerie, thought-provoking, moving, exquisite – Dark Land Light House is a reminder of all that theatre can achieve, when done well and with a dauntless imagination.

Dark Land Light House is on at Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 30th April 2016. To book tickets, visit www.bristololdvic.org.uk/darkland.html. Presented by Sleepdogs, it’s produced by MAYK and is a Jerwood Charitable Foundation & Bristol Old Vic Ferment Commission.

Creative Team
Writer Timothy X Atack
Director Tanuja Amarasuriya
Original Music and Sound North Sea Navigator & Timothy X Atack
Production Design Rosanna Vize
Lighting Design Ben Pacey
Projection and Video Design Rod Maclachlan
All photography Paul Blakemore

Theatre review – A Girl is a Half-formed Thing

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing1 Credit Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

Sweeping us from the days before birth deep into a girl’s life, Annie Ryan’s adaptation of Eimear McBride’s award-winning novel for The Corn Exchange Theatre is a formidable journey. The adaptation itself is a work of mastery – at no point do we exit the inner narrative of the half-formed girl, instead experiencing everything that comes her way with visceral intensity.

To accomplish this, Ryan cast just one character, the girl, performed with extraordinary power by Aoife Duffin, who also presents us with every person the girl encounters, from mother, brother and uncle to a breezy roommate, and a succession of men. Her ability to portray different presences is striking – a few alterations to her voice and posture conjure up a host of folks with a variety of intentions towards the girl.

With equal economy, the stage is dressed with no more than a covering that could be carpet, could be mud, and Duffin’s costume comprises what looks like lounge wear – comfortable, unassuming and disarmingly vulnerable. Her feet are bare throughout, allowing Duffin’s talent to shine as she acts from head to toe.

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing cr Mihaela Bodlovic

Aoife Duffin in A Girl is a Half-formed Thing © Mihaela Bodlovic

The story isn’t easy-going. There’s grief, betrayal and an awful lot of sex, most of elicited but less with passion than a desire for self-abasement.

Yet, this is a love story in the purest sense of the word, as the girl aims to protect her older brother and keep him safe from the tumour that afflicted him before her birth. He is the ‘You’ she refers to frequently, and when she talks of their childhood, we’re offered the impression of them hiding together from their irate ma, secure and for the most part happy.

Subtle use of sounds and lighting move us from scene to scene, and mood to mood, but truly this is a play of words; fractured, invented, poetic and bold. Duffin breathes them with every part of her being, so that when she is sore, we are sore, and when she is searching for a sense of herself in all the wrong places, we are searching for her too, so we can bring her safely home.

It’s a performance full of strength, raising questions about culpability and the tendency of victims to punish only themselves. By the end of the 1hr, 25 minute play, Duffin is in emotional tatters, running from the stage after each curtain call with palpable relief. The courage required by this show, and by the girl it focuses on, is evident on her face.

A Girl is a Half-formed Thing is at Tobacco Factory Theatres until Saturday 30th January. To book tickets visit www.tobaccofactorytheatres.com, call 0117 902 0344 or email tickets@tobaccofactorytheatres.com

Theatre review – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Mark Hadden’s 2003 bestseller is dream material for any imaginative dramaturg. The result from playwright Simon Stephens, director Marianne Elliott and their team is an exquisite work of art, incorporating clever lighting, movement and huge volumes of emotion.

It begins with a dog, a garden fork and a distressed 15-year-old boy. Christopher Boone (Joshua Jenkins) has trouble making sense of other people, especially when it comes to reading their expressions. Unable to lie, in many ways he is an innocent, yet one equipped with extraordinary amounts of resourcefulness and determination.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

Christopher sets himself the task of solving the mystery surrounding the dog’s demise, treating it as a project, and takes us along for the ride.

And what a ride it is. Through the street he lives on, to the train station and then into the bewilderment of the London underground. At times Christopher’s sensory overload became my own, as crowds ebbed and flowed, lights fractured and sound pulsated – ringing through us, the audience, as well as our hero on-stage.

There are moments of real fear amid the overriding tension, as well as sublime beauty, magic and even peace. The scene where Christopher imagines being an astronaut is particularly elegant.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg2

Joshua Jenkins is extraordinary as Christopher – as the character he reels off strings of facts, figures and theories at speed, uses the entire stage and the full scale of human emotion. The whole cast were excellent – his parents, played by Gina Isaac and Stuart Long, were especially impressive – drawing us deep into Christopher’s vibrant, sometimes alarmingly intense, world.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time cr Brinkhoff Mogenberg1

© Brinkhoff Mogenberg

The answers he finds in his search aren’t the ones he’s anticipating. If you’ve read the book, I urge you not to re-read it before seeing the play as the surprises when they come are revealed with grace as well as gut-wrenching power. As audience members we emerged exhausted but exhilarated – and, unexpectedly, understanding Pythagoras‘ theorem.

I watched the play at the Bristol Hippodrome. To find out where The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is on near you, visit www.curiousonstage.com