“Tinged with sweetness and menace…”
Tucked away in the black box of the Blue Elephant, itself tucked away in the Oval/Camberwell borders is the nightmarish fantastical world of Boy in Darkness. Conjured from the solo storytelling prowess of Gareth Murphy, who also adapted the piece from Mervyn Peake’s novella, it’s an alluringly spellbinding piece of physical theatre that receives a thoughtful production here from John Walton and one which ought to fire even the most jaded of imaginations. It is worth noting too the special relationship between this venue and Peake’s work, this being the third that they have staged in recent years.
Boy in Darkness’ protagonist is a 14 year old teenager straining against the boundaries of his life but once he escapes them, he finds himself tumbling into a surreal and strange new world populated with mysterious characters that demands huge resourcefulness. Not just from Boy, but from Murphy too as he creates and distinguishes each new persona with real skill – the chilling bleating and obsequious attention of the Goat and the preening arrogance of the Hyena really stood out for me – the elegance and economy of movement almost hypnotic to watch.
Martin Thomas’ set, dominated by its climbing frame in front of a burnished mirror, is only the beginning of the playing space, as Murphy throws himself about the periphery of the room with a gleeful physicality, using every nook, cranny and window ledge to essay an escape from the castle. Fridthjofur Thorsteinsson’s imaginative lighting also makes full use of the space to create uplit drama or haunting shadows where necessary and Jon McLeod’s sound design adds to the growling sense of foreboding in this junior odyssey.
At just over an hour, Boy in Darkness probably pitches it about right. For a newcomer like me to Peake’s work, it’s a strong introduction to the deep dark sadness of the Gormenghast world and leaves a definite sense of there being much more to explore in lieu of a tidy ending. And in the mellifluous melancholy of the prodigiously talented Murphy, it is a journey that is pleasurable to get swept up in.