Edinburgh Fringe 2009
Boy in Darkness
Festival: Edinburgh Fringe
Boy in Darkness is a engaging work by a creative and imaginative new company, Curious Directive. The piece is devised from a brilliantly haunting and original story by wunderkind author Mervyn Peake, and the theatrical version presented here is equally haunting and inspired. The young cast does wonderful work in attempting to bring to life the impossible and inhuman with inventive and fanciful imagery and text. However, the production could take even more risks with delving into the grotesque and extraordinary in more involved and visceral ways, and could benefit from further development of transitions and pacing. On the whole a brave and inventive first attempt by a promising new company.
Boy in darkness is the story of young Titus Groan, 77th Earl of Gormenghast, who on the eve of his fourteenth birthday is suddenly thrust into a fantastical, disturbingly dreamlike world populated by human animals- or animal humans, who follow their own bizarre rituals and hierarchy. Through clues in the text, we discover that all of these creatures were once fully human, but are now strange hybrid creatures who live more like the animals whose qualities they have taken on than as humans. Lion, Hyena, Lamb, Gazelle, and Goat encounter young Titus on his journey, and try to help, guide, destroy, and assimilate him in turn.
The show opens with the haunting image of a lonely child’s birthday party. The antique furniture, burlap fabric, and clicking radio set the scene eerily in the 1920’s. The story then bursts to life with an imaginative childlike energy, turning a chair into a mountain, string into an airplane, and the audience cannot help but be charmed and whisked away with Titus on his strange journey. The animal characters he encounters are brought to life by hints in costume and movement, but could be more fully realized, at the moment, they give the impression of being sketches of something that has yet to be entirely developed. However, they begin to come to life in creative and imaginative ways, and create several moments of true beauty. The text, although interesting storytelling, and dramatically strong, could do more to move the story along at a continual pace, and ease some of the slightly awkward transitions.
However, my favorite part of the production came after the show, where the audience was confronted outside the theater with two signs pointing in opposite directions: one saying “Home” and the other “to continue the journey…” Of course, what choice could one really have? We willing and brave audience members were led into the darkness through a field outside the theater, where we were introduced to new characters such as Sparrow, Hare, and Spider, who illustrated a more complete vision of the world which they inhabited, as well as some very interesting elaborations on the story of how the place and characters came to be. There was a lovely moment in which the audience was invited to write out a moment “of the skin” that they remembered from their “past life”. But disappointingly, the journey also fell a bit short of being fully realized- the opportunities presented by the actual outdoor scenery and freedom in interacting with characters without a script could have been more fully taken advantage of. I wanted to see our path littered with small remnants of the lives of these creatures who inhabit this strange, magical land, rather than it being littered with empty Strongbow bottles and Tesco bags. The presence of this kind of trash quite obviously in their playing space demonstrates a lack of attention to detail that this company suffers from, and may at the moment prevent them from reaching the level of brilliance that they may one day be capable of.
All in all, Boy in Darkness is an interesting piece, and quite solid for being a first attempt by such a young group. What it lacks in specificity, fullness and clarity, it makes up for in irresistible imagination and heart.