BOY IN DARKNESS – Blue Elephant Theatre, London.
Sometimes the Theatre is a totally comfortable place to be. Sit down, switch off and let the world pass by in front of your eyes. But there is another kind of performance out there, and another kind of production – one that makes your jaw drop as you realise the power of a writer’s imagination, and the care that a whole company have taken to bring his story to your consciousness with remarkable immediacy.
Boy in Darkness is one of the rare productions in that latter category. It is an all-round production, and the effort that has been made in its construction is evident throughout, from the simple but imaginative set by Martin Thomas to the quietly threatening soundscape designed by Jon McLeod. The lighting by Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson to the direction by John Walton. And of course in the performance itself, which is nothing less than a tour de force from Gareth Murphy.
Based on a Mervyn Peake novella, the plot, in which a boy goes forth into a strange and darkly threatening world, is simple but has that mythic dimension which is the essence of Peake’s creativity. Here it is brought to life in a blend of storytelling, physical theatre and performance that is breathtaking in its creativity and scope.
Physical theatre has rarely been this physical. That set, simply a few planks and a misty mirror, will be used as climbing frame, castle, escape route, entrance to an underworld, bed and throne, as Gareth Murphy throws himself around and uses beyond its limitations.
The plot calls upon many of Murphy’s talents as he has to become almost simultaneously a boy, a strutting hyena, a fawning goat and a god. That he does this with such conviction is evidence of a beautifully nurtured talent in a performance of rare commitment.
The Blue Elephant Theatre in Camberwell isn’t perhaps the easiest place to find. It is an appropriate venue though, for Mervyn Peake taught not far away at Camberwell College of Art. He would surely have been pleased with this rendition of one of his dark tales. This production is worth searching out.
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By Michael Spring
11th March – 4th April 2015
Blue Elephant Theatre, London, SE5 0XT.