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Things of Darkness – review by David Chriscole

Dark tales excite me, and coupled to a fantastical and surreal story, I instinctively knew it was going to be pretty darn good. I was not at all disappointed to enter the capacious arena that is Hope Mill Theatre, to see a sparsely populated performance area. In fact, quite the opposite was true.

On entering to take our seats we are confronted with Jimmy (Danny Solomon) seated in his wheelchair wearing bandages covering his eyes. Mother (Elizabeth Poole) is attending to him, washing his feet. An eerie soundtrack plays in the background to give a spooky feel to the simple yet effective pre-show display.

Once begun, the story focuses very briefly on the war-torn Jimmy and his frustrated Mother. It seems Jimmy does not need the bandages, yet refuses to remove them. Once Mother leaves, we hear the sound of flapping wings, the lights flicker as if something moves quickly before them, maybe a moth, or a bat? Yet neither notion prepare you for the Faery (Sophie Coward), and her graceful entrance into this suddenly enchanting scene.

Coward’s precisely choreographed movements and physical interactions with Jimmy are a joy to watch. So smooth were the pair that perhaps she really did grow wings, to fly around the scene. The childlike curiosity of Faery is spoken with unfinished sentences in the third person about “she”, herself, that need no ending to understand.

The story follows Faery and Jimmy, who is “fixed” by Faery so he can see, talk and walk, through a magical yet dangerous land, populated by manner of beasts unknown, bar one called Chilstone (Lewis Marsh).

Along the way we meet a Tinker, Apothecary and a Beggar Woman all played by the multi-tasking Elizabeth Poole. In this delightful plot however, these roles are quite deliberately an image of Jimmy’s Mother, and referred to at each meeting, much to the consternation of the character. Each turn we encounter themes of loss and discovery. Jimmy also finds something of his own that was seemingly lost, and a key point in the grand plot of this play I will not spoil for you.

At moments through the story we are halted, stuck in time to see the arrival of Chilstone. His entrance preceded by darkening of light and massive boom. This creepy and imposing figure is played by Marsh with a gloriously menacing tone. He has power over all, including Boy (Liam Phoenix) who lurks in the scenes in various guises, perhaps a student of Chilstone himself.

Throughout, we are slowly drawn into a plot created by Faery that would appear at first sight to be a perfectly executed dash for freedom. Yet, we are minded that in these shadows, the darkness at the corner of the eyes, things are not always as they appear to be.

A hugely captivating performance by Coward and Solomon supported by the highly adaptable Poole was a great deal of fun. Marsh was a perfect villain… or was he actually a villain at all? Remember, all is not what it seems. My only tiny niggle about this wonderful and imaginative writing by Mark Murphy, was that we did not see or hear more from “Boy” played by young Liam Phoenix, I was left wanting to know more about what his character was about.

But in the end we return to the light, everything is as it should be, and as I leave the space, I cannot help but glance at the shadows… is something there?

This is a tale not to be taken lightly, despite moments of delightful humour. It is gripping text from Mark Murphy and with direction from Kerry Kawai to be envied. The use of the large space was simple, yet managed to paint grand visions in the minds eye.

Loved it, bravo!

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