Edinburgh Fringe 2016
A nightmarish vision of life on the streets for a young homeless person with mental health problems that graphically represents the horrors of alcoholism and its long-term consequences using masks, puppets and physical theatre.
Sleeping on a bench beside a bin, Jack is woken by a friendly pigeon, a mechanical handheld puppet that echoes the brilliant masked pigeons that appear later. Pigeons are benevolent, almost protective figures in The Marked, a play that is heavy with symbolism.
Jack is sleeping rough somewhere in London after the death of his abusive, alcoholic mother. It’s an isolated and scary place. Vaguely threatening hooded and faceless figures shuffle anonymously by.
The setting is a somewhere behind a building. We see an old broken fence, some corrugated iron and a communal bin, all covered with graffiti-like cracks that seem to visually represent broken glass. It’s simple, but effective, and echoes the sound effect of smashing glass, which is a recurring sound motif that triggers disturbing memories of his mum’s alcoholism.
When Jack meets the pregnant Sophie, who along with her aggressive and possibly abusive boyfriend has just been evicted from a squat, he sees in her a kind of mother figure that he is drawn to, while at the same time being determined to intervene in her behaviour to stop her unborn child experiencing what he has.
He tries to give Sophie a torch he believes has special protective qualities, while a scarf she leaves behind, perhaps reminding him of the white wrap we briefly glimpse his mother appear in holding him as a baby in happier times, he also sees as a kind of defensive device. While Jack clearly believes fate has given them a special connection, Sophie is a little alarmed by his advances.
This human interaction is interspersed by periods of psychosis during which he has flashbacks to his childhood where, sometimes accompanied by a puppet child self, he is abused and attacked by his violent, alcoholic mother, a grotesque, witch-like figure with lank hair and blood streaming from her eye sockets.
In his hallucinations ghoulish masked figures pursue him and bin bag monsters emerge like oozing slime, while the metaphorical ‘demon drink’ is physically embodied as a grasping, demonic figure with black claw hands. It’s graphic, disturbing and very dark.
There is a lot going on and you have the impression of a bigger cast than just three, who work hard running round to keep all the different characters going, seamlessly disappearing and reappearing as someone or something else. The giant pigeons are outstanding, with the actors walking backwards so their arms can flap in the right direction to be wings.
The Marked finishes in a more lucid, hopeful moment, which lifts it from being utterly bleak, but in another sense it’s an oversimplification because someone that damaged does not just get better. It’s weakened just slightly by the plot at times being a little unclear. The magic torch also seems too childish for someone aged around 18 to 20, even with emotional problems.
Inspired by real life stories of homelessness, The Marked is a nightmarish vision of life on the streets for a young homeless person with mental health problems. Jack is a nice guy who means well, but because of his hallucinations, he is potentially a threat to those he cares about. It’s a highly original piece, with masks, puppets and sound expertly executed to great effect. While far from light entertainment, The Marked is powerful and memorable stuff.