Beyond Cragporth Rock Review – The Public Reviews

Lucy Corley, The Public Reviews, 23rd June 2015

The Bike Shed stage is absolutely still. The sound of waves and calls of seagulls drift in through the window of the ramshackle cottage kitchen set. Laid over the huge wooden table, the rocking chair, cases and beams, are the bodies of six young women, each bearing the marks of a different gruesome death. As we watch, the six sisters rise and begin to tell us how they came to die here, in a desolate cottage on Cragporth Rock.

Haste Theatre describe their work as “creative physical storytelling,” and this summary is spot-on. But it doesn’t capture how unusual and honest their work is, or how it feels to watch them. Arguing and talking over each other, the sisters of Cragporth Rock explain how in the year 2032 society has descended from “an economic crisis to a human one.” People have turned savage and roam the streets in gangs – this cottage on an eroding cliff face is the sisters’ refuge from a world they no longer recognise, and they have been here for ten years.

Devised by director Ally Cologna, Beyond Cragporth Rock imagines what it would feel like to live half your life inside one house, seeing or speaking to no one but your sisters. The story is reminiscent of Lord of the Flies – the children of ten years ago have established the routines and hierarchies of their micro-society, and stick to them almost religiously. Their slightly caricatured personalities and relationships are reflected in every action: when they sit down for dinner for instance, tough Cordelia sits at the centre of the table; prim, nervous Verity on a stool to one side; neurotic Edith perches precariously on a high step ladder. Stoic Oscar (“Yes, I know it’s a boy’s name”) hunches on her box, while bossy Belinda issues each sister with plates and cutlery according to rank, and the youngest, Maggie, just tries to muddle along between them.

Haste Theatre are a tornado of energy from which you are never quite sure what is going to emerge next – an impromptu tap-dance perhaps, or a flawless “making the dinner” juggling routine reminiscent of Morecambe and Wise, where balls of tin foil appear, disappear and are flipped from sister to sister with consummate ease. The company’s style encompasses all aspects of physical theatre, from mime to freeze-frame, clowning to slow-motion. As the sisters gradually become paranoid, each thinking the others are out to kill them, there are moments when they howl like wolves or fight tooth and nail, interspersed with singing in harmony – a poignant rendition of Shenandoah that echoes around the Bike Shed walls as their lullaby to one another.

The few children in the audience find plenty to laugh at (it’s not a horror story, despite its gory premise) and are transfixed throughout; for some of the adults it is exhausting, even uncomfortable to watch. For me, the show hovers uncertainly on the boundary between laughter and tears, and there is something incredibly appealing about its methods of exploring the darkest corners of human nature. The play is so bizarre and stylised that it is somehow more true to life than “realism” – it presents a world without a plan or rehearsal, but as a series of situations its characters react to and do their best to survive. Ultimately,Beyond Cragporth Rock is an utterly collaborative work – while the sisters squabble and fight, there is never a sense of any single actor trying to outshine the others; instead they are absolutely in sync with one another and the result is spellbinding to watch.