THE BELIEVERS – Tricycle, NW6

A FABULOUS LITTLE FRIGHTENER…

What’s going on? you quaver, as four characters move and weave at impossible angles around a bare scaffolding of wall and door shapes. Are they gripped by some fiendish science or magic? or just by their own tormented psyches, as they utter broken sentences trying to remember something dreadful? You jump out of your skin as neon shapes of rooms and windows overhead reveal a screaming face, and thumping heartbeat sounds of dreadful import shake the little theatre. Is it sci-fi? are these people blown into the Fourth Dimension through a cosmic wormhole? Or has Bryony Lavery taken to surrealist neo-Beckettian theatre of disorientation?

 

The bewilderment clears and it seems that were are in a genre lately scorned by Kathleen Turner as “kid-jeop”: in which emotion is ratcheted up by putting a child in peril. We flash back, via an admission that drink and spliffs were involved. There was a terrible gale and flooding (this is, after all, co-produced with Theatre Royal Plymouth). Marianne and Joff (Eileen Walsh and Christopher Colquhoun) were invited, with their unseen nine-year-old Grace, to eat and sleep over with less afflicted neighbours they haven’t met before, Maud and Ollie (Penny Layden and Richard Mylan).
These are the Believers: hippyish, prone to long rambling graces, candles, herbs, new-agey stuff about Forces and sexual freedom. The dinner-table discomfort of the new – non-believing – arrivals is beautifully done and naturalistic (bar the odd weird convulsion and worrying neon room-shapes overhead). As they grow drunker and more stoned the talk turns to the ‘challenging’ behaviour of Grace and her parents’ despair, compared to the daughter of the house, Joyous. Offstage, Grace kills a chicken, and the believers offer a “warm herbal bath” with candles and prayers to “heal” her of evil. It’s as if Ayckbourn rewrote The Turn of the Screw.
Suddenly the blackouts and perspectives grow crazier: figures seem to stand at impossible angles; once we are looking down from above (how? mirrors?) on the two visitors. Blackness, candlelit faces, more convulsions. Sexual threat. Foreboding noises. Is it Satan, is it devil-children, is it the Thing in the “sky with a lot of claws”? Will we ever face a windy night again without shuddering?
You may notice that my graphic mouse-rating for this fabulous little frightener consists of director, designer, lighting and sound-mouse. Which is not to belittle four terrific actors, or Lavery’s writing, but to acknowledge the major contribution from director-choreographer Scott Graham of Frantic Assembly. Working with Jon Bausor’s giddily incredible designs, artfully lit by Andy Purves and the most alarming soundscape in London by Carolyn Downing he creates a spectacle: a 75-minute ride to beat any ghost-train. You could get all portentous and say it has messages about modern parenting, drugs, or the flakier brands of religiosity. But I’m not sure what those messages are. Too frightened to think. Lovely.
box office 0207 328 1000 to 24 May (extended already!) http://www.tricycle.co.uk

Rating: four     Male director mouse resizedSet Design Mouse resizedSoundscape Mouse resizedStage Management Mouse resized

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