Company Of Sirens
Seligman Theatre, Chapter, Cardiff
The Creature is a companion-piece, of sorts, to The Wolf Tattoo, the previous collaboration between playwright Lucy Gough and director Chris Durnall’s Company of Sirens. But while that play was set in a dystopian society menaced by feral youths, The Creature gives us access to an entirely private hell.
As the play begins, three figures are entwined beneath a bare, metal table. When they emerge and disengage from one another, we see that they are dressed in identical grey jogging-bottoms and hoodies. The ambience is austere, the only other design element being a demure blue dress suspended from the ceiling.
It soon becomes evident that we (the action unfolding in-the-round, the audience on a level with the actors) are in a prison cell, and that the three protagonists are, in fact, one—Matt Reed’s Son 1, and Sons 2 and 3, played by Jarred Ellis Thomas and Angharad Matthews (also the show’s designer), who represent the voices in his head—the female element the more sinister, the male more tentative. The boy clutches and obsessively quotes from a book taken from the prison library—Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
The visitor whose arrival he has been hoping for arrives—his father, played by Jams Thomas. We discover that the boy has committed a dreadful crime, and Father is only visiting because he has been pressured to by a television news interviewer. In fact, the two hardly know one another, since Father abandoned Son at a very early age.
Exchanges between the two are aggressive, the older man disgusted by the boy’s crime—he abducted and murdered a young woman, inflicting terrible injuries. The son, in turn, blames his father’s absence for his instability, the implication being that he was never taught to love properly, which led to an unhealthy obsession with his victim.
The piece was developed following workshops at Bridgend’s Parc Prison and, while the author does not minimise the horror of the crime and its impact on the victim’s family, The Creature is something of a plea for understanding—fatherlessness and trauma-induced mental illness being factors in much crime.
The Frankenstein theme is explicitly cited (“you made me and you left me to rot”—not an exact quote) and one is also often reminded of the scene in the 1931 film in which the monster accidentally drowns an innocent child—although the Son’s offence is no accident.
The piece is further coloured by the songs of recently deceased singer-songwriter Daniel Johnston, whose “Casper The Friendly Ghost”, about a boy whose promise goes tragically unfulfilled, is quoted throughout.
There is also a recurring motif throughout Gough’s surrealism-infused text: a bird, which symbolises many things—the freedom which the Son craves, inaccessible beauty, a reminder of his own past cruelty and, of course, the colourful, devil-may-care victim.
Reed is compelling as the tightly wound Son 1, believably disturbed without resorting to scenery chewing; equally, Thomas expresses Father’s revulsion and exasperation in a relatively measured manner, acting as the audience surrogate when he argues that, despite his own disadvantages, he never killed anyone.
Durnall’s directorial approach, as was pointed out during the post-show discussion, focussed on developing the physicality of the piece, utilising Thomas and Matthews (it was the director rather than the author who chose to make one of the “voices” female) as teasing, provocative aspects of the Son’s subconscious. While this is visually striking on the whole, there are occasional awkward moments which tend to undercut the tension. The glitchy lighting and unnerving sound design, though (overseen by Dan Young) ensure that the nightmarish tone retains a hold as the extent of the Son’s self-delusion becomes clear.
At just under an hour in length, The Creature is simultaneously tragic, horrific and poetic and never less than arresting. One imagines that if the piece is ever performed, as has been proposed, in the institution in which it was conceived, the residents will be as moved and intrigued as the Chapter audience.
Reviewer: Othniel Smith