Grey Man, Theatre503 - Review

Photo © Nick Rutter


Written by Lulu Raczka and directed by Robyn Winfield-Smith, Grey Man draws upon the oeuvre of Angela Carter and Susan Hill to tell an urban coming of age tale with quasi-supernatural undertones. Deliberately using two actors of different ages (one around 50, the other around 25) to play the same character and deliver the same monologue, the performances given couldn't be more different.

The first monologue – performed by Kristin Hutchinson – has Maya return to her childhood home, the set itself looking marvellous as a dilapidated residence. The monologue is multi-layered as it entwines Maya's recollection of urban myths – the modern 'fairy tales' that serve as society's warnings – with tales of her own sister growing up, who herself was gifted at telling 'scary stories'. This meta- angle works really well and even though Maya is played as an ordinary person with average powers of oration, the written monologue takes this into account, which makes it all the more relatable.

The 'Grey Man' in question ­– a person that was regularly sighted in Maya's youth ­– has his own mythology, and his association with that other urban legend, 'The Woman', a source of never-ending speculation. Maya's sister's story progresses from incidents relating to these characters, to the dangers of dating in the real world. But it all comes full circle, leaving the audience on the edge of their seat. With Hitchinson's own performance, the sound design by Daffyd Gough, lighting design by Jamie Platt, the set by Natalie Parsons and the overall sensitivity to the material, the first half of the show is near-perfect, leaving the audience craving more...

The second half of the evening has Jasmine Blackborow playing Maya as a 25-year-old. From the off, the tone is very different with younger Maya more playful with her banter. While the Hitchinson section is more reflective and atmospheric, the overall tone of the second half  is one of subverting the tension felt earlier and playing with the audience's expectations. Also the inference of the sister's malady ths time around is actually one of mental illness which definitely puts a different complexion on things.

Intellectually I 'liked' the deconstructed second half and if I had seen it in isolation without the 'elder Maya' version, I'm sure I would have like it more. However, because the first half was so good (and I say this with purely subjective taste), I felt the 'revisionist' interpretation 'undermined' what was shown earlier and felt unnecessary.

As an experiment, Grey Man is certainly intriguing and the idea of more than one interpretation of the same copy is a good one. I think though that in this case, with such a strong beginning that completely different dialogue (but the same topic) for the second half would have been less jarring and naturally felt like it had its own identity.

© Michael Davis 2016

Grey Man ran at Theatre503 from 21st to 25th June 2016.


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