Children’s voices chatter on the sound system: the overwhelming effect is that of dreamlike dread
The set is dark and bare apart from the columns of bird cages the actors move between. The movement of the actors evokes both the jerks and twitches of marionettes and the fluidity of dancers. There are a couple of real marionettes brought out during flashback scenes while children’s voices chatter on the sound system: the overwhelming effect is that of dreamlike dread.
This is all carefully orchestrated for the story being told. Arden, our narrator, has committed crimes that are unspeakable even for his inmates, the worst of criminals. Nonetheless, he is someone who sees enchantment in the walls of the underground prison, and hope in the snatches of sky seen from the only window. He weaves us a tale about his fellow prisoner York, and The Lady, an investigator determined to understand and help him. We see her delving into the horrors of York’s past and some of the characters along that path, the jerking dances of the cast punctuating the narration and dialogue. Even when interacting, the actors never fully face each other. Since the audience is on three sides of the stage, this is pragmatic, but it also adds to the uneasy disconnectedness. Words and actions skate over each other. At times, this technique highlights the unspoken things in our interactions, such as a doctor’s aggressive reaction to the investigator becoming expressed physically even as the conversation remains at the level of the polite, everyday discourse.
This spellbinding story will refuse to let you go. It is a play with a message to tell about the treatment of human beings and the possibilities of redemption, and it delivers this with skill.