Friday, August 09, 2019

The Old Curiosity Show – imagination runs riot in this dark and deathly triptych (Amadan in The Vault as part of EastSide Arts Festival)

John Patrick Higgins writes words. Long ones and shorter ones. But lots of them at a time. They ooze out his pores. Seemingly unstoppable. He speaks with rich simile and a finely-tuned sense of criticism. But his written words are even sharper, loose in the sense that they’re not so honed to be frugal, but paint unanticipated and at times shocking scenes.

A previous script by John Patrick Higgins gave voice to a man whose mental health was in turmoil. His latest work is more upbeat, albeit in a dark and somewhat deathly fashion.

The Old Curiosity Show is a triptych of gothic, somewhat rude, tales of the unexpected. And the free-flowing imagination suits the style of Amadan, an ensemble who revel in edgy and physical theatre that imposes upon the audience’s space and sensibilities, while delighting in the wonder of proper clowning about and their bouffon style of theatre.

The first vignette sees a well-to-do gentleman (played by Jude Quinn like an amalgam of elderly and deceased unionist politicians) step into Sweeney Todd’s barber shop (played by Helen Ashton) for a spot of restyling. While there’s an inevitability to the bloody razorblade action, what leads up to that moment and the reaction of finger-licking Mrs Lovett (Gemma Mae Halligan) provide drama and intrigue.

Amadan’s style invests heavily in posture, glances, and the physicality of performances. This was the first show, after years of attending productions, in which I’ve heard Quinn utter a line on stage. Before this week, mumbles and moans had always been sufficient. But the team wrap Higgins words around their miniature set and simple, reusable props to ramp up the absurdity and milk every line and pun for its laughs. This is the finest of controlled madness.

One melodramatic tableau is quickly threaded into the next and a governess picks up a job from a prickly parent to mind two young charges in a ghostly setting, before a deadly cleaner arrives to clean up a mess, aided by a giant pigeon seagull who had one audience member laughing nearly to the point of laying an egg.

Three actors create 26 characters so when a cast member appears around the side of the backdrop, you’re never quite sure how their base costume will have been accessorised, how their new teeth will affect their facial expression, and what they’ll be carrying. And when they open their mouth, Higgins’ creativity adds another level of mystery.

The Old Curiosity Show was a one-off performance by Amadan in The Vault as part of EastSide Arts Festival. Hopefully it will soon return to delight and surprise further audiences.

Photo credit: Campbell Photography

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