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Here Be Monsters

Mark Williams
Theatr Iolo
Chapter, Cardiff
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Although not operating exclusively in this arena, Theatr Iolo has built up an impressive reputation over the past few years for producing innovative work aimed at the family audience. In Here Be Monsters, they and author Mark Williams have set themselves the challenge of telling a tale built around mythic horror elements which is, nevertheless, child-friendly.

The story begins with children sitting on a rubbish-dump, telling one another scary stories. Charlotte Neville’s set immediately situates us in a grimily magical milieu, John Norton’s creepily ambient sound design and Jane Lalljee’s lighting effects combining to create a doomy atmosphere.

The central characters are readily relatable. Surly twelve-year-old Elfi, played by (the slightly older) Llinos Mai, has a lot to deal with. Not only has she lost her mother, but her father has a new partner who has gifted her an unwanted younger step-brother, Ed, whose geekiness is effortlessly conveyed by Adam Scales. Whilst playing amongst the semi-urban detritus, they discover a mysterious book from which they glean the information, through means far too complicated to go into here (okay, I didn’t quite understand it), that they have to join forces to find and capture four monsters before the day is out in order to save the town from destruction.

Thus we are in classic quest territory. It quickly becomes apparent, though, that the monsters which the children are combatting are personal demons—fear, insecurity, grief, change, etc—and that their true reward will be a fulfilling sibling relationship.

Director Kevin Lewis cannily refrains from cinema-style tricksiness in creating the on-stage monsters. The remaining cast members, Ceri Elen, Jenny Livsey and Richard Nichols, play them, both in combination and individually, with the help of some slinky costumes (possibly indicating another fear: puberty), and Jem Treays’s choreography; the big bird made from carrier bags and old newspapers is particularly imposing. They also shine in their other roles, Elen as Elfi’s spiteful friend, and Livsey as the sinister florist; Nichols is especially engaging in his too-brief scene as Elfi’s wacky (but in a good way) father.

Williams’s dialogue is pitched to appeal to both adults and children, although there is an outbreak of poetry at one climactic point which jars a little. The combination of fantasy and mundanity is highly effective; the “monster” metaphor is enviably clever.

I feared that the younger audience members might be unconvinced by the organic nature of the “special effects”; it appeared, though, that they remained as engaged and entertained throughout as those adults present.

Following the Cardiff run, Here Be Monsters, tours to Newport, Milford Haven and Llanelli; it certainly deserves to be seen further afield.

Reviewer: Othniel Smith