Boy in Darkness: Blue Elephant Theatre, Review

Boy in Darkness

There are books which defy genre, whose distorted and surrealist worlds seem capable of existing only in the fertile land of the imagination. It is fitting, then, that in his one-man stage adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s genre-bending novella Boy in Darkness Gareth Murphy puts aside all props and visual detractions, opting instead to use a more traditional form of storytelling to coax a fully realised landscape from the minds of the audience. Covering the Boy’s escape from the castle on his fourteenth birthday and his voyage into new and awful territory populated by quasi-cult figures and decay, the show lovingly combines storytelling with clear and distinct characterisation and a modern physical element to help create the depth and dimensions of Peake’s nightmare world. The end result is immersive, rich, and full of potential.

Gareth Murphy has a talent for distinct and rapid characterisation, neatly switching between extreme creations and modulating voice, posture, and movement seamlessly to bring to life a strong cast of characters. Of particular charm – if charm be the right word – is his sycophantic anthropomorphised goat, whose bleating hesitation and semi-retracted movements sows suspicion of this new world from his very first appearance. It is quite some feat for one actor to shift between four characters and an authorial voice without the lot descending into farce and it most admirably done here.

My only real complaint is that the physical element, whilst given such free reign in the characterisations, is restrained and abortive when applied to creating the space itself. Innovative use is made of the very walls of the space and the planking making up the set to convey the Boy’s flight from his claustrophobic castle, but this is left mostly unexplored once we enter into the other world. The construction and description of this world for the most part is left to the narrator’s words, whereas it would have been a richer experience had it been translated to movement; Murphy’s one truly physical episode, using the space much as a gymnast does for their floorshow, demonstrates his physical capability and it seems a shame not to harness this more fully.

The show feels like it is bursting with ideas that in some cases have been beautifully realised and in others have not quite been tapped to release their full potential. Nevertheless, it brings to life the very intimate art of storytelling which sometimes in modern theatre seems to have been lost behind elaborate sets and paint. By inviting the audience into a silent and co-creative dialogue through physical explorations and painstaking narration, Boy in Darkness brings much life to its unusual and enchanting source material.

(C) Rebecca Moore, 2015.

Boy in Darkness
Blue Elephant Theatre
In house production

Twitter: @BETCamberwell

Photo by Lidia Crisafulli

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