Ruth Gledhill, London Theatre 1, 25th September 2014
This play opens with its ending, yet that is not how it ends. The audience enters onto a set where six mad, beautiful women, one called Oscar, are arranged in a variety of death poses. The six sisters, the youngest ten at the time, had fled a world that had disintegrated into economic and technological chaos. They moved into a cottage on the edge of a cliff and we meet them as their food supply finally runs out. There is cannibalism, fratricide, and above all humour. This post-modern existentialist drama has them all. Imagine the child cast of Matilda stuck in one room with a crazed choreographer for ten years, and you’ve got the idea.
We all know the experimental fringe productions where sparse audiences clap politely as fresh drama school grads throw themselves with stagey enthusiasm into less than adequate scripts and directions. Climbing the concrete stairs to the warehouse-style loft in the middle of noisy shouty Peckham Rye where the award-winning Haste Theatre is presenting Beyond Cragporth Rock, I feared the worst. And for the first time, I was having to award stars for a review on this site. Oh woe.
These fears proved groundless. The house was full. As we walked in, the set immediately grabbed our attention, demanding to be noticed and examined. Countering the current trend for minimalism, it was complex and multi-faceted. Yet everything, no matter how small, played its own part, like a Swiss watch. Every single item was a character in its own right, while the actors themselves would at times be “frozen” in time, as the set took over.
Perhaps that is because “movement” is so integral to this play. The script was well-written, beautifully-so in parts, although some of it could have done with a little tightening. But any minor flaw there was more than compensated for by the whole. The cleverness of the movement and dance direction, the haunting use of song and harmony, the utterly brilliant technique with which the change-bringing wind was represented, was breathtaking. The actors, trained in physical theatre at the top schools as well as dance and drama, worked closely with director Ally Cologna and designer Kate Rigby in bringing the concept to this stage. It was first developed at St Mary’s University as part of its masters in physical theatre, and it is possibly that intellectual integrity at the heart of it, the sense that everything has a valid reference, that it all “goes somewhere” in spite of staying in the same place, that renders it so strong and dynamic.
The plot seems simple, but actually contains many complexities around family relationships, growing up, hunger, harmony, the will to survive.
Although we think we are seeing the end at the beginning, in fact we are not. I won’t spoil it for you but it was genuinely shocking and dramatic, powerful and emotional, awful and beautiful. Catch it if you can, before the terrible end.