October 2, 2015 by David
Bristol Old Vic, Wednesday 30th September
The audacious journey of Raymondo and his brother Sparky is going to live with me for some time.
Too often with new work – or in particular new writing – it can fall into that trap of worthiness, desiring to appear timely or incisive before offering some kind of social or political commentary that gets our right-on liberal juices indignantly flowing. This is the complete opposite: a delightful, zany and wholly absorbing work of unadulterated imagination.
This fantastic piece of theatrical storytelling unassumingly draws us in before sending us helter-skelter through a captivating fantasy world of darkness, intrigue and adventure, pulsating throughout with a big heart and a robust narrative about brotherhood, survival and love.
It’s captivating throughout, and with playwright-performer Annie Siddon’s louche poetic writing and understated delivery, I can only describe the result as a little like what might happen if you put Tim Burton, Philip Ridley, Tim Crouch and Chris Goode into a blender together with a thesaurus.
It’s linguistically deft, but virtuosic in performance. The images come thick and fast as phrase by phrase, Siddons builds up a distinct world of isolation, imagination and desire to escape.
Raymondo and Sparky have been locked in the cellar by their mother since the ages of nine and one respectively, and in the last six years have forged an unbreakable bond. Raymondo’s loyalty and protection of Sparky, and his desire to keep them safe against all the odds following their unexpected escape forms a solid spine to the story.
Thrillingly, this allows the plot to feel like it’s going off the leash at times. It ducks and weaves into bizarre locations such as café-cum-millineries, where love metaphors take concrete form and crowd around the characters; then into shops displaying in jars the lost fears of Felicity Kendall (all for sale of course), then ending up with Raymondo and Sparky tragically incarcerated again, exploited by a menacing French fashion designer and once again fighting for their lives.
Siddons is accompanied live by musician Tom Adams via a hauntingly eerie underscore composed by Marcus Hamblett. Adams manages to utterly transform the electric guitar, persuading it to produce soundscapes and acoustics other-worldly in nature. In addition, what’s brilliant is that when Siddons takes to the keyboard herself in accompaniment, the duo maintains the arch atmosphere of the storytelling – it gives it some light relief, but never breaks the frame.
There’s a self-conscious element to the storytelling at times as well, but this only adds to its ability to leap around in space and time. Just when you wonder what happened to a particular narrative thread, the writing seems to gather it up and inject it back into the plot with aplomb. Amidst what might sound chaotic, there’s a precise and sophisticated craft going on under the surface.
As such, in the final moments it all comes together beautifully. The last beat of the story – and the unique way in which Siddons phrases it – sends you out into the night with renewed hope not only for the human spirit, but for the power of the imagination.
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