Devil in the Detail

Toby Wilsher
Meta Morpho Theatre Company
The Corn Exchange, Newbury, and touring
(2010)

The Devil in the Detail publicity photo

Meta Morpho is an enthralling new theatre company founded in 2009 and their first play is a mask piece and it's good to see that genre returning to the stage. Devil in the Detail, written and directed by Toby Wilsher, the co-founder of Trestle theatre, is loosely based on John Maddison Morton's Victorian one act play Box and Cox.

It's a wonderful black comedy about greed and deceit played by actors in full masks. Consequently there are no words but instead the actor's body language and gestures tell the narrative in a highly physical and visual manner. The masks are beautifully crafted and superbly capture the characters' personalities.

Set in a run down part of town, a devious greedy landlady and her ambitious daughter make ends meet by renting out a small apartment. Not content with a single rent, they let out the flat to two men who never meet as one works days and the other nights. To sustain the deception and maintain their double rent the conniving pair must keep the two men apart and revamp the room twice a day, changing bedding and the pictures and taking instant photographs to ensure that everything is in the correct order, often with hilarious split second timing.

Both men have secrets hidden in the room. One of them is swindling his drug dealing boss out of some of the illicit takings and stashing the money behind an air vent. The other has a rattlesnake hidden in a large tank under his bed and kills mice in order to feed it. There is also a terrific puppet dog who had a personality all of his own.

At first all goes well and the imaginative way the men were kept apart was reminiscent of a Brian Rix farce, with excellent timing and tremendous comic invention. Great stuff!

However disaster strikes when one of the men arrives back early, suffering from a hangover and the two men meet. What follows is a manic, riotous rollercoaster ride that includes poisoning, shooting, snake bites and attempted suicide - truly side-splitting fun. The dénouement certainly had a 'sting in the tail'.

James Lewis's atmospheric set perfectly captured the seedy dwelling and David Clarke's lighting and effective soundscape created the different moods from Turkish dance music to classical hits.

Skilfully acted by, James Greaves, Alan Ridley, Sarah Thom, Jack Read and Michelle Baxter they richly deserved the audience's thunderous applause.

This was an exhilarating, highly enjoyable evening. Highly recommended. More please.

Touring to Theatre Royal Margate 16th October and The Hawth Studio Crawley 21st to 22nd October

Reviewer: Robin Strapp