Venue: Blue Elephant Theatre 59a Bethwin Rd Camberwell London SE5 0XT
I confess to never having read Peake’s Boy in Darkness. Despite that, I was ceased by Gareth Murphy’s physical articulation of a young boy’s struggle against oppressive rituals. His performance shows how it is the imagination that fuels the boy’s courage in the face of unimagined horror. It’s a perfect metaphor for the oppression and violence which seems the particular journey of young men who even today are called on to enter war zones and battlefields that seem set up to brutalise them.
I find it always a privilege to watch work in development. The dramaturge and theatre historian in me knows that it’s a unique moment that will never come again. What you see before you is the raw energy and commitment of artists who just have to tell the story. You just know that you’ve witnessed something special.
Director Aaron Paterson’s decision to keep to the integrity of Peake’s story, rather than coat it with the spectacle-making stage technologies of flashy lights, projections and other paraphernalia which the digital age makes accessible, testifies to a highly disciplined approach. The exactitude of white lights, precisely timed, together with a simple mat designated as a focal point from which the action explodes outwards and the performance area coated in the white dust of the harsh world which Peake designs for the story is highly evocative.
Gareth Murphy’s training as a mime artist gives him a control of movement which is a pleasure to watch as he transforms his body into the various characters of the story. But his one-man show is way beyond the simple storytelling technique of an animated presentation. It seems almost to evoke a new form of drama: a hybrid between dance, mime, narration and the arrangement of the performance space to include the audience in the dust land of Peake’s imagination. For me, it seemed like watching a ballet with narration.
Certainly, the work needs further development. The design of the performance space is rich with possibilities that need more exploration. The organisation of the narrative in the space needs even more tough minded and disciplined articulation that can only be done in performance, as the director and performer work with different audiences over time. I believe the play could also look towards developing a sound track around the characterisation of the Lamb
Nonetheless, there is no doubt in my mind that all the key elements are in place. It is an evocative one-man performance that calls on the dynamism of a balletic performer supported by a highly discipline use of scenography and lighting. It is great work longing to be fully realised.
Reviewed by Dr Josey De Rossi Friday 10 May