“In a play which offers so much juicy character work it is an astonishing feat of theatrical good manners that no one attempts to hog the green tinted limelight.”
The programme handed to us as we entered The Vault on Merchant Street is printed on lavender paper. “It’s like the Lavender List.” I’m impressed. I didn’t think the Current Mrs Dan had listened to a word I’d said after I’d finished Sandbrook’s multi-volume history of the 70’s. And yet she could recall all the murky, paranoia of Downing Street as Harold Wilson left it. She had even remembered that the dodgy dossier of resignation honours awarded to Wilson’s cronies had (allegedly) been printed on lavender-coloured stationery. “Of course I remember about the Lavender List” she went on, “You were in [Michael Frayn’s] Democracy with Ted Short’s son.” So I was. Wilson’s mind in the final hours of his political life must have been very like The Vault was as we entered. Spooky. Subterranean. Cavernous. A swaying symphony of forest greens to the fore, a fearsome projected illumination of goblinity at the back. A fantasy landscape where even the trees have agendas of their own. Wilson would have been right at home.
Goblin’s Story is a tapestry of threads drawn from nineteenth century poetry. It is centred on Christina Rossetti’s Goblin Market. The central characters are ‘the baddies’ of familiar, and not so familiar, period pieces. A goblin, named Goblin, possessed of a gentler soul than other goblins, is sat on a tree stump. He’s disengagedly reading a newspaper while his attention is sought by the insistent Jabberwocky. Shrek-like, Goblin just wants to be left alone. When the Ancient Mariner appears spouting his mad rhymes Goblin’s peace is well and truly shattered. All that is left is for Cutty Sark, a witch from Tam o’Shanter, to put in an appearance.
Laura Witz’s direction has turned comic timing into an extreme sport. A fraction of difference either way and oblivion beckons. She builds the tension slowly but steadily, drawing out the first nervous giggles into sustained tittering and then total sympathy. Goblin Story is her script and she knows just what to do with it. Witz is fortunate to have at her disposal a formidable ensemble. In addition to the four main characters there is a goblin posse of five and a pose of as many trees. But the stage never appears crowded. The blocking is interstellar.
The living forest is represented by girls in black holding branches of bay, which charge the atmosphere with perfume and rustle. They are supernumerary superheros. Poised and perfectly mannered, their gestures enhance the play’s depth and subtlety like a bay leaf in a stew.
The goblins, expertly led by Rory Kelly (the Robbie Coltrane of our time), are sinister and sophisticated in their movements. They are living out Rossetti’s narrative poem with savage delight. The noble Jabberwocky (Grace Knight) attempts to organise her companions so as to disrupt the goblins’ dastardly designs.
Knight is bubbly and engaging. An essential contrast to the moody, broody Goblin (James Beagon). Beagon is the pace setter for the piece with a deal of heavy dramatic lifting to do. Although he hardly seems to breaks a sweat, his concentration is total. In a play which offers so much juicy character work it is an astonishing feat of theatrical good manners that no one attempts to hog the green tinted limelight. The cast’s capacity to be off stage while on it, to blend into the background when needed, is best demonstrated by Thomas Edward whose tall frame towers over the rest of the company. Edward could so easily have hammed up his comic non-sequiturs, taken from Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, playing soft balls to an increasingly generous audience. Instead he is an adornment to the play and it in turn is an adornment to him. Izzy Hourihane, as Cutty Sark, completes the ensemble. It’s a wonder that such a big voice can be housed in so small a figure. Hourihane does smart and sassy rather like a Michelin starred restaurant does fish and chips, a superb interpretation of familiar themes. This company should be held together by royal decree – I genuinely believe that they can achieve anything together, especially when presented with a script as dashingly bold as is Goblin’s Story.
This production achieves so much in so small an amount of time and in such an imposingly characterful venue. The idiosyncratic costumes bring each individual into a collective harmony. The lighting and the makeup add highlights and flare in all the right places. The trees, who might so easily have become the director’s peculiar fetish, add a living lustre offset by the ghastly goblins. Upon such foundations the cast assemble a brilliant entertainment. A literary and literate script given a lively and lucid shine by a company of accomplished artists.
You might think bringing so many branches of bay leaves on stage was a tad presumptuous but this production cannot be garlanded with sufficient laurels.
Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 19 November)
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