August 20-27 (15.00)
Script: Stagecraft: Performance:
The show began with the audience being addressed in an ancient tongue – Cornish- for we were now about to enter into the deep past, to a time of myths and legends, one legend in particular “The mermaid of Zennor”. Our guide was Daniel Drench, a professional storyteller and sometime actor played by Dan Frost. With his booming voice and evident pride for his Cornish homeland Drench was a large presence on the stage both literally and figuratively. A demonstrative performer he gesticulated wildly with his hands and stomped about the stage with intent before the story had even begun.
When he did begin Drench narrated the story to the audience whilst intercutting it with scenes where he acted the part of the main character, sullen Anti hero Matthew. These sections were played out as rather beguiling silent tableau illuminated by spotlight. Out of the shrouded darkness came the voices of bar-room bores, friends or his parents trying to communicate with him. As well as being beautifully atmospheric this also helped heighten the sense of the central character, Matthew as being a troubled yet passive individual lacking any real sense of a will of his own. The contrast between Frost’s energetic and charismatic role as storyteller Drench and Matthew ‘s lumpen silence worked rather well particularly in the way it was staged with the effective use of lighting. It seemed that his role of storyteller in its way was just as much a performance as that of Matthew and there was fun to be had in his grumbling about failing to land a role in “Poldark” or in his chastising of the audience for not joining in with his singing.
The language of the writing did feel at times a little stale and I became aware of the use of over-familar turns of phrase but there were also moments of rather lovely poetic description particularly of the local landscape. One part particularly stands out where Matthew’s mother describes in juicy detail a bird attacking and making off with a rat whilst he sits impassive and glum his knife and fork raised in his hands.
The moodiness of the piece was leavened by Drench’s interactions with the audience and the flecks of humour with which he coloured the piece and I would have liked to have seen more of this. When circumstances changed for Matthew and he was given a new lease of life it seemed like the story might likewise pick up the pace and head somewhere interesting but sadly this was not the case. It merely dawdled along to an insubstantial and unsatisfying conclusion. Though the use of sound and lighting made great use of the space and created a real sense of atmosphere and times even genuine beauty a show such as this needs more than technical trickery to get by.
It was true that Frost’s performance as Drench was full of flair and drew me in despite the weakness of the material he had to play with however overall I felt the show dragged and was let down by the weakness of the central story. As a story it was simply not interesting or powerful enough to warrant the amount of effort everyone had clearly gone to. I feel the piece would have worked far better if Drench and his issues with the material and conflicts with his own situation as a storyteller and performer had been more of the focus and the folk tale had been used more as a framework to build it around. An intriguing, if not entirely successful piece of theatre.