Flare Festival at HOME, Manchester.
7 July 2017.
By Massive Owl as part of Flare International Festival of New Theatre.
Massive Owl create an evocative new piece of work by plundering small details from the film ‘Stand By Me’ and Stephen King’s novella ‘The Body’ on which that film was based. Set in the same fictional town of Castle Rock, the performers take up residence within gaps in the original narrative and create new types of sounds where there was previously silence.
On a simple white canvas, three actors use sound, light, a few props and projection to tell a story. There is no soft spotlight or warm glow. The projector, manoeuvred by hand throws up sections of harsh light in squares and rectangles. Re-framing the action – creating stretched and often distorted shapes with hard edges and jagged sharp corners. Adding to the sense of disorientation, sound is looped and layered.
Danny Prosser plays Ray, a child struggling to get over the loss of an older brother. He imagines the daredevil feats of Evel Knievel as a route into manhood. He challenges himself to stare down a train and then jump out of its way just before it reaches him.
The train is given human form, becomes a character, and a conversation between the two of them is imagined. “If they had the same words as each other”. The train warns Ray against his plan, emphasising ‘her’ power and speed, and inability to stop suddenly. This conversation becomes heightened and heated. The boy and the train face and circle each other – their encounter ritualised, like a deathly courtship dance.
In the woods, Ray sees a deer. Like the train it adopts human characteristics and also warns Ray of the folly of his dare. As the deer, Sam Powell moves gracefully on all fours across the stage – his back legs elegantly extended, thanks to a pair of high heels. Unlike Jenny Duffy’s confident, striding train, he moves cautiously – transfixed by the audience, often still, staring and nervous.
Contrasts between the two non-human characters are emphasised. The train – fast, powerful, ruthless, man-made and industrial. The deer – hesitant, peaceful, primal, at one with nature and symbolically innocent.
A distorted version of the Eurythmics’ ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ builds beneath a final climactic sequence. The song gradually becoming more distinct as the boy in boxing gloves, the be-suited train and the deer in stilettos – move erratically, at odds with each other, casting shadows large and small . The projections fill the stage with rapidly changing colour. It builds to become a hallucinatory experience – both beautiful and unsettling. Then the movements become synchronised and the music takes on a more recognisable shape. Suddenly the train falls ravenously on top of the deer, crushing it beneath its power.
Is Ray’s death wish granted? In the original story it was. Here, in this Castle Rock, there are other possibilities.
‘Castle Rock‘ has a clearly signposted source but has been totally reimagined as a place and story. Although staged, it is strikingly cinematic in scope and texture. Around a slippery new narrative, designed to disrupt and unnerve, Massive Owl build a smart, stylish and nuanced production.