Black Shuck, The Bedford, Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival - Review

It's no secret that Blackshaw Theatre Company have 'fingers in lots of different pies'. Podcasts, new writing events, full length plays, they have never been one to rest on their laurels. Their latest play Black Shuck – which is directed by Ellie Pitkin and currently running at Theatre N16 in its adopted home of Balham – has on the surface more than a dash of Hound of the Baskervilles about it.

Set on the coastal moorlands of Norfolk, Black Shuck stars Rachel Nott as Martha, and Alexander Pankhurst as her brother-in-law Art. Waiting for a shipment to be delivered to a desolate drop spot, Art recalls a tale he was told as a kid of an enormous black animal that folks said the Norfolk coastline, as well as the other rumours that it was a story created by smugglers to keep people away from the area. But being a quasi-ghost story, the noises that the pair hear leave them on tenterhooks...

While not exactly an out-and-out comedy or a 'serious' work about the supernatural, Black Shuck uses tropes from each to craft a tale that's essentially about family sticking together, no matter what the circumstances are or members' idiosyncrasies. The real 'mystery' within the play is how two people as disparate as Martha and Art are, have decided that working together on a smuggling expedition is a good idea. The chemistry of Nott and Pankhurst, who had major roles in Blackshaw's last play Stayin' Alive make this thoroughly entertaining to watch, annoying each other as only 'family' members can.

From a techinical front, kudos to Andrew Crane who through various sound and visual effects did much to shape the atmosphere, and suggest the unseen characters and light from external sources such as ships, aircraft and moonlight.

In the second half of Black Shuck, some really interesting details are revealed about Martha's early home life with her sister and her mother. While it went some way to explaining Martha's 'strong', responsible nature, it's not mentioned again – obliquely or otherwise. It's certainly the sort of info that a whole play could be made of and would be worth revisiting in the near future.

At approximately an hour long, Black Shuck is a taut play that manages to walk the tightrope of genres but playing to the strength of all. Having a play set in another region of the UK is a bonus, especially when one considers there really is a myth about a beast roaming the coastline on Norfolk. There's a lot of potential in unearthing regional tales so that homogeneity doesn't set in in British theatre.

© Michael Davis 2016

Black Shuck runs at The Bedford pub, Balham (as part of Wandsworth Arts Fringe Festival) until 19th May 2016.


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