Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸
Wayward Productions see’s Enda Walsh’s enigmatic adaptation of Max Porter’s award-winning novel land blindingly onto the Barbican Stage. This exhilarating proverbial staging written and directed by Walsh, intelligibly manifests grief, from the very sensation of it, to its affect on the human condition. The remarkable delivery of which, leaves audiences both shocked and enthused.
Situated in a London flat, GITTWF introduces it’s audience to a father. A father not unlike any other parent of young children, except here we are presented with a man that is consumed by sadness. Left lost, empty and despairing, he glances towards his family’s future now that his wife, the mother of his children has suddenly died. Imagining it to be filled with endless streams of sympathetic visitors and a thick, black emptiness. However, whilst he and his two young boys face their desolation, they are visited by Crow – described as the ‘antagonist, babysitter, trickster and healer’. A ‘sentimental bird’ that is drawn to the grieving family and somewhat menacingly threatens to stay until they no longer need him. (This threat, enforced by a ‘mythical’ being, is aberrantly reminiscent of that of the walking of the monster in Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls, which received its own stage adaptation last year). Both, on stage, wonderfully enacting as theatrical epics, intertwined with emotion and poeticism aplenty.
Cillian Murphy, is absolutely exquisite his ability to shape-shift between character’s, changing from the romantic grieving father to the abrasive visiting Crow, is unparalleled. The father, bereaved and anxious, struggling to write a book on Ted Hughes whilst fumbling to look after his sons, is played tenderly and inwardly by Murphy, a passionate yet muted characterisation, that is deeply juxtaposed by his portrayal of Crow. Charging around the space, Murphy here, dynamically commands the atmosphere and displays an extreme amount of skilled athleticism and charisma. Achieving the transition between the two by the simplicity of a hooded black dressing gown, Murphy dextrously metamorphoses into Crow, amending his entire physicality. As Crow he adopts a stooped posture, splaying his feet and bounds on and off furniture and stage levels alike. He even bursts into the audience, breaking the fourth wall and physical stage boundary, through this act the character reminds us that the circumstances in which he is visiting are universal, prolongedly experienced by all. This undeniably adept physical transformation is also accompanied by an intriguing modification in voice, effectuated by the amplification of Murphy’s vocalisations through various microphones, whilst the actor himself reforms his tonality to display an energised lower, rougher quality. His skill tumultuously accenting the fabulous sound design of Helen Atkinson.
Walsh’s inspired decision to have Murphy play both characters, unites the human and animal worlds, demonstrating that their is not much difference between the two. That in both, whilst grief sets in, survival is still a priority. Furthermore, the Crow’s inhabitants emphasises the curative essence of poeticism, nature being a regular feature in liturgical works. The Crow becoming a mythological outlet and at points symbol for the family’s grief. He is a vehicle for the pure fury that the father feels at the premature loss of his wife, as well as the helper who drowns out the sadness that clings and attacks the father’s tender reminiscings of fond memories.
That being said this production is that of excess and theatrics. Something that at times becomes detrimental to the piece. Walsh cleverly, does a lot with the help of the other creatives to generate a sensory overload, importantly with no clear natatorial structure, using the vocal amplifications and Teho Teardo’s compositions, combined with Will Dukes exceedingly detailed and well-crafted projections and Adam Silverman’s dynamic lighting. Resulting in a submerging wall of sound and visual spectacular. Though this sensory overload is key to engendering the overwhelming and at points incapacitating sensation of grief, (something this creative team crafts faultlessly), the result is that it can be difficult to understand Murphy and the direction of the work, leaving the point to get somewhat muddled underneath the hyperactive mutterings of Crow. (Particularly on the projection side of things, as from certain seats these become indecipherable). Nonetheless, the sentiment and atmospheric technique is genius. These profuse afferent sections are wonderfully contrasted by the romantic and anxious recollections of the father, where we hear recordings of his late wife’s voice or see images of her, whilst the father fights to keep it together. A powerhouse performance from Murphy on both accounts, ensues.
Yet, the secondary star of the show is the design. Will Duke’s projections do much to bring the metrical nature of Porter’s novel to life, despite being of a monochromatic persuasion, they are wonderfully vibrant working with the sound design and Walsh’s pockets of poetic speeches to bring to life the mythology and animal iconography of Porter’s original in a stylised manner. Whilst also doing much to illustrate the extent of grief on the human psyche. Alongside these are the exciting intricacies of Jamie Vartan’s design which are prevalent and important. The variegated levels provide the perfect playground for Crow to bound upon and state his presence, whilst the flat, though realistic in contrast to the character of Crow, becomes the perfect white canvas for not only Duke’s artistic intent, but for the family to grow and learn upon, they find teachings in both the tragedy itself and Crow’s lessons, learning to live again and to function as a family unit of three, their anger and naivety can cause messes, (messes we physically see), but the tidying back to white and starting again is possible, (something we again witness). A beautiful message, that it is possible to build something from despair and that you can try as many times as you need to get it to work. Laid on top of this is Adam Silverman’s detailed and at times subtle lighting. A particular favourite is the unassuming cross, a shadow often projected onto the lower back wall, next to the first door. It appears much like a tombstone, an ever-present reminder of death and of the person they are missing. The fact it disappears every so often, suggests that grief though painful does dissipate with time and becomes ever more fleeting.
To conclude, GITTWF is phenomenally well acted and designed, it packs a punch, but remembers to contrast it’s spectaculars with more sustained moments of clarity. It simply needs to slow itself down at points to allow it’s technical skill and execution to speak for itself. To find out more about the production click here. grief sim the thing with feathers
Max Porter – Text
Enda Walsh – Adaptation and Direction
Teho Teardo – Composer
Jamie Vartan – Design
Christina Cunningham – Costumes
Adam Silverman – Lighting
Helen Atkinson – Sound
Will Duke – Projection
Cillian Murphy – Actor