Based on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner this new piece at the Royal Exchange is a little unsettling, but completly captivating.
I wasn’t familiar with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, the poem by the English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge written in 1798. But a great deal of it felt very familiar.
“Water water everywhere nor any drop to drink.” And the whole albatross round the neck scenario.
Now I know where they come from.
I think if I was nine, I’d have probably felt as though I’d been lured to this play under false pretences. The production, by Tangere Arts is aimed at audiences of age 9+. When I was nine I took things very literally. If I was promised a thousand slimy things and an albatross along with “swashbuckling adventure, awash with live music and highly physical comedy”, I’d be expecting Pirates of the Caribbean meets Live and Deadly.
It’s not! Don’t go expecting to see deadly sea creatures, and don’t go expecting to see pirates – because there aren’t any!
What you have got though is a really engaging and imaginative interpretation of an ancient classic.
The story in a nut shell is as follows:
Wedding // funny old man with piercing eyes who looks a bit like Richard Stilgoe needs to get something off his chest // relives a voyage and reveals a painful heavy burden // storms and ice // mariner shoots albatross // brings vessel and crew bad luck // forced to wear dead bird round neck // crew all die (water water everywhere etc.) except for mariner // left with putrid bodies on ships deck // goes a bit mad // partially cured by seeing a thousand slimy sea creatures // rescued by hermit in rowing boat // cursed for all eternity with black story which he feels the need to tell everyone.
I’m sure purist Coleridge fans probably want to batter me now with such an appalling summary, but I can probably run faster than them so I’m not too bothered.
The cast is made up of two actors (Gary Lagden & Darren Lawrence) and musician Christopher Preece who plays an impressive collection of instruments and creates a spooky and intense atmosphere.
I LOVED the opening of this play. There is no stage, just two men sitting behind a long table covered with a white cloth – all of the above on wheels. Before a single word is spoken the two actors glide across the floor to eyeball unnervingly the children sitting in the front row of the audience, which is arranged on three sides. Silently saying to them – I see you, I’m watching you, I’ve got your attention, now keep it here!’
Over the course of the next 60 minutes (no interval) the table and chairs are used to excellent effect as boats and mini stages. Though the ‘Health & Safety Gone Mad Police’ in me couldn’t help wincing at the sight of grown men jumping up and down off a table on giant casters!
This is an ancient piece of work, which is reflected by the language which hasn’t been messed around with or modernised. You do have to concentrate – which is where I thought it might come unstuck as a children’s production. However, the audience was kept off balance sufficiently for this not to be a problem. I watched the children around me closely and each and every one of them was gripped by the combination of lighting, music, sounds and really great engaging acting.
And then just at the point where I felt they might start to drift, they were all suddenly involved in the play, being given a light to hold – reeling them right back into the heart of the story.
I wasn’t sure whether it might have been a bit too intense for the children, so did my usual trick of trying to overhear conversations on the way out. I’m delighted to tell you that it was proclaimed to be ‘Awesome’ by one little girl – and all her friends nodded in agreement.
Tackling The Rime of the Ancient Mariner in this way and aiming it at 9+ years was a brave move for this production, which was specially commissioned by The Royal Exchange, but I really believe that it worked. I for one now feel that I can tick off another of the classics quite painlessly. Now, all I have to do is persuade them to tackle Dostoevsky!
A Thousand Slimy Things is showing at The Royal Exchange Theatre from 8th – 23rd June 2012. Prices Adults £10, Concessions £7, Under 13’s £4. For more information and to book tickets please click here http://www.royalexchange.co.uk/event.aspx?id=511