Review: The King in Yellow, The Lion and Unicorn Theatre (Camden Fringe)

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸

Presented by GayInnocentHeartless Theatrics, (a relatively new and exciting London-based theatre company), The King is Yellow is an intelligent, darkly enchanting, totally unique and deliciously decadent adaptation, based on the Victorian cosmic horror anthology by R. W. Chambers of the same name.

This suspense-driven work by Josephine Czarnecki and Darwin Garrett, beautifully takes inspiration from and pays homage to, The King in Yellow, Chambers’ aforementioned anthology of surreal and macabre tales. The collection is an unusual, supernatural fiction set in a dystopian 1920s America and was inspired by a play of the same name, (referenced in several of the stories and said to drive the reader to madness by the second act). GayInnocentHeartless tackles the dystopian writing by staging their adaptation in a Brechtian and highly representative manner. Their ambiguity in era does much to aid the understanding and drawing of various parallels to today. Whilst the original play retains much of the significance it holds in Chambers’ text, representatively featuring in many scenes, (a strikingly yellow copy of Chambers’ book enacting as the place holder here). The yellow cover is thus intrinsically highlighted against the backdrop of the monochromatic set, costume and props.

The prime appeal of Czarnecki and Garrett’s adaptation is however, the format. Though the pace did drop at points, their version effortlessly with both wit and charm, interweaves the narrative between re-enactments of Chambers’ first four interconnected stories; The Repairer of Reputations, The Mask, In The Court of the Dragon and The Yellow Sign. The production commands its audience to bear witness to a group of young bohemians, artists and decadents who fall under the influence of the sinister play. This demonstrated indoctrination is melancholically coupled with hints towards imperialism, (in both the dialogue and the execution), making for a deeply striking comparison to Donald Trump and other world leader’s own seemingly imperialistic intent, (hello Greenland) and of course, his indoctrination of a large proportion of American citizens who unwittingly support him.

The resulting work is wonderfully ensemble-led, stylised and episodic. It darkly explores the thematic of sanity against madness and investigates the infectious nature of an idea. On par, the piece is superbly well acted, Ashton Spear, Robbie Heath, Owen Clark and Nina Atesh are all particularly emotive and strong performers. Whilst Charlene Segeral and Zuzana Spacirova are stand outs, they both display clarity, prosaic passion and certain subtleties in their delivery.

Despite this, the ensemble nature of the piece does cause some confusion. The multi-rolling converging with the interwoven stories makes it difficult to keep up with the characters and who exactly is who. Whilst the relatively niché nature of the stimuli means those who aren’t familiar with Chambers’ work can be left struggling to understand the significance of particular moments and overall plot, at least until some of the later scenes.

Overall, The King is Yellow is unique and well thought out. It does need some tweaking, but is reasonably insightful and has certain striking and witty moments. The King in Yellow runs at The Lion and Unicorn Theatre as part of Camden Fringe until Sunday 25th August, book here. 

 

WRITTEN BY: Josephine Czarnecki & Darwin Garrett

DIRECTED BY: Josephine Czarnecki & Darwin Garrett

ENSEMBLE: Ashton Spear, Robbie Heath, Owen Clark, Nina Atesh, Charlene Segeral and Zuzana Spacirova.

Review: Blink, Lion and Unicorn Theatre

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Martini Rating: 🍸🍸🍸🍸🍸

Blink is a compelling and witty unconventional love story. Performed sincerely and jovially, the composition of the work presented by director Samantha Robinson delicately built something both exquisite and charming, the perfect dysfunctional romantic comedy.

Sophie’s father’s death leaves her with a void to fill and two conjoined flats in Leytonstone. Having been made redundant, she fixes up the lower flat which was her father’s and awaits a new tenant. Falling into a lonely routine of video games and trash TV. Jonah, a Quaker living on a farm finds hidden inheritance left to him by his mother, her words willing him to use it to go out and experience the world away from the sheltered lifestyle of ‘a self-sustaining religious community’, he travels to London and coincidently, through an estate agent, rents from Sophie, living beneath her. Sophie’s grief has pushed her into a position of loneliness, whilst Jonah’s inexperience, naivety and placement in a new city means he fails to connect with other living beings, except for a mange-ridden Fox in the garden. Sophie watches Jonah, Jonah watches Sophie. Something beautifully demonstrated with unseen glances towards the other, between sections of dialogue enigmatically directed straight out to the audience, facilitating the sense that though they are both present with each other, they are by choice not present, simply watching and not engaging. Brilliantly enacting the way people often passively act towards each other online.

As mentioned above Phil Porter’s work gravitates around the theme of watching (voyeurism), it is therefore rightfully so packed with symbolic references to seeing, following and visual stimuli, making for an interesting exploration into what it is like to be watched, particularly in the digital age, an era where the ‘me generation’ has emerged, creating content that can be stalked online by anyone. With many affairs now being conducted over social media, there is a shift in how human connection can be ignited and sustained, Porter thus examines this in an intriguing manner from a unique deeply symbolic perspective. Creating these characters that form a bond without even actively engaging with one and other. 

Opening with a comparison between the eye of a rabbit, that has been tracked and hunted, to a camera lens, an object that could juxtaposingly, be used in the act of stalking, it therefore questions whether trailing someone, encouraged or not and however innocently, can flourish into love, or if it only facilitates obsession. Set firmly in the present, the piece oozes relevancy, taking this phenomenology of the digital age and cementing it further within the universal themes of loneliness and grief, the powerful performances on top of this making for a deep rooted meaningful delivery. The two universal feelings forming the basis of a set of coincidences causing ‘lovers’ Sophie and Jonah to somewhat-distantly meet. Examining not only death and it’s impact, but more widely on London culture perpetuating a struggle-through-grief attitude, as well as expediting a deafening loneliness due to its fast pace. The ominous echo of the two thematics: (loneliness and grief) is first and foremost excellently manifested by the empty black box space, dressed only with flooring and chairs. The chairs as moveable objects, not only imaginatively and instantaneously create setting, but also convey the increasing proximity of Sophie to Jonah, as one begins to stalk the other. Sophie orchestrating and playing up to the attention received, as Jonah, having watched her through a screen at first, begins to follow her every move, an interesting dynamic, conveyed stupendously well here. The direction formulating a kind of disconnected flirting, the actors beautifully conducting the character’s delight and intrigue towards the audience and not towards each other, with a series of well-timed looks and expressions. This incites almost a comical game of cat and mouse, the tension heightening as they place the chairs closer and closer to each other, but never quite touch, the lack of physical connection demonstrating their refusal to directly converse. The actors hilariously move and dart past each other without even an ounce of acknowledgement, a kind of non-present presence. The superb pacing of these scenes establishes a rush in excitement and fascination much like in a new romance; Jonah becoming more daring and serious even, in his pursuit of Sophie, revelling in the fact she doesn’t know he’s there, (or so he thinks) and Sophie delighting more and more, (an upwards spiral out of grief), in taking them on various excursions, enjoying the sensation of being watched as it seems to give her a new purpose. This scintillating physicalisation of the game of flirting is thoroughly entertaining and cleverly built up, a million miles away from the earlier tender scenes of Jonah watching Sophie on the baby monitor she anonymously gave to him. We see him in awe as he watches Sophie eat an apple, fixated on the screen. Robinson accomplishes direction to highlight Porter’s theme of voyeurism astoundingly, after Jonah intricately describes her every move consumed by what he sees, Georgia Halford, (Sophie) then vividly recreates every move, indicating it is her he is watching in tandem to explaining how it feels to be on camera here. This powerful visual excellently denotes the start of the character’s connection, a moment of poignancy, triggering them doing everything together without truly being together. It is the performance of these delicate moments that creates a genuine feeling of care and tenderness between the two, we see motifs in which the two actor’s physicalities match, they almost mirror each other engendering a sense of companionship, for instance they excitedly shift in their seats and smile in close proximity, simulating watching TV together, showing the two to be content in simply knowing that the other is there. But as always looking outward to their audience to show they are not truly together. A feeling that is built musically throughout with the composition and soundscapes provided by musician Roel Fox, his music is light and delicate, a weaving of tenderness throughout. A sensation echoed throughout with the lighting, beating on and off the actor’s faces often in time to the music and dialogue, a stunning and reactive design. 

Robinson and Assistant Director Natalya Micic, take the visually symbolic nature of Porter’s play and run with it. First and foremost placing the kindled love between the two protagonists in the set and props, visually displaying it. Sophie anecdotally explains at the start of the piece, how her dad cared for her so much that he would fulfil even the most ridiculous request, recalling how he placed her bed on the lawn after a dental operation so she could breath in the fresh air allowing the grogginess to clear. Jonah reminds her of her dad, (with her earlier mentioning their similarity in movement), and thus when Sophie returns home from hospital in their timeline, Jonah copies what she told him her father did and we physically see an enactment of him moving the bed, from it being propped up side of stage and lifted onto the AstroTurf covering the stage space, followed by him making it. This staged act of compassion elegantly symbolises love and human connection, something that by this point is brewing between Jonah and Sophie. It is then the location of which they share their first kiss and begin to get intimate. Similarly we are shown Jonah’s wellies from the farm, as he introduces us to his sheltered life on in Yorkshire as a Quaker. We only see them again when Sophie banishes Jonah back to his flat downstairs, his intensified behaviour and obsession becoming too much for her, she hands the wellies back to him to signify things returning back to the way they were before, just knowing the other is there. 

Ashley Gyngell is wonderful, he unfalteringly captures Jonah’s bewilderment, innocence and naive charm. But is overall unprecedentedly animated and comically gifted. His counterpart Georgia Halford is likewise a powerful and formidable performer, grasping and conveying a semblance of genuine grief and pain. She is a pragmatic and talented storyteller, both also excellently multi-rolling at points. Whilst it is Samantha Robinson’s direction that foments the telling of this story so genuinely and presently. An absorbing and humorous story for our time. 

Writer: Phil Porter 

Director: Samantha Robinson 

Assistant Director: Natalya Micic 

Lighting Designer: Sam Thomas 

Music: Roel Fox 

Producer: Camille Wilhelm 

Sophie: Georgie Halford 

Jonah: Ashley Gyngell