Thursday, 9 January 2014

‘Talon’ at Bristol Old Vic

Photo: Paul Blakemore

One for sorrow, two for joy…

Never has the magpie rhyme seemed more eerie than in the Bristol Old Vic Young Company’s production of the new gothic thriller Talon.

Written by Theo Fraser Steele, Talon follows newlywed couple Mary (Amy Hunter) and James (Samuel Bailey) whose happy marriage starts to feel the strain when Mary fails to fall pregnant after the first few years. The scenes showing the passing of time and attempts to conceive are perfectly directed in a simple but effective dance using a very versatile white sheet.

When James has a regrettable fling with a maid, which produces the much-longed for child, in a fit of rage he puts the infant boy in a wicker basket, and pushes it away down the river… thinking the boy will quietly die, but not realising he will be rescued and raised by a tiding of magpies.

Mary knows nothing about this, but her desperation for a child is driving her mad. Ambitious and unscrupulous Dr Foster (Joseph Langdon) becomes a frequent visitor to the home, prescribing laudanum to both James and Mary in a bid to help their insomnia and depression. But his time with the couple instead leads to him unravelling a terrible secret…

Photo: Paul Blakemore

Directed by Miranda Cromwell, Talon is a wonderfully chilling gothic tale that is compelling from start to finish, with a constantly building air of menace. The magpie chorus that surrounds the stage, and frequently dominates the action, is a wonderful device, and one that produces fantastic sound effects and some truly haunting singing. There is also a nice hint of old-fashioned BBC radio plays, with two cluttered tables at each side of the stage, covered with microphones and props, where various cast members retreat to provide sound effects, which works very well.

Between the German Expressionist lighting, the fantastic creation of imposing shadows, and the framing of all of the action with literal, well, frames, Talon is a cracking example of good theatrical storytelling. The cast are all very strong, and the inclusion of a child actor for the boy (instead of an adult pretending to be a boy) is a brave move that pays off.

Talon is performed at Bristol Old Vic’s Studio until 11 January. Click here for more information. 

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