Writer: Veronica Gonzalez Pena
Director: Douglas Gordon
Reviewer: Iain Sykes
Scared of the dark? Scared of the wolves? Want to face your fears? Then, on the face of things, Neck of the Woods, premiering at Manchester International Festival may be for you. With concept and direction from Turner Prize winning artist Douglas Gordon, the audience find themselves plunged into total darkness for what seems like an age while sounds of hacking and laboured breathing surround them. It must be one of the strangest beginnings to any theatrical experience and strange may be the byword for the rest of the evening too.
Charlotte Rampling acts as storyteller in this retelling of the tale of Little Red Riding Hood, albeit one which twists into something darker and more personal, later in the piece, as the huntsman (a disembodied voice throughout) appears to distort into the character’s father who abandoned her as a child. On a dark stage with Rampling, often holding a large cuddly toy wolf and picked out only in a simple light, the tale is delivered in a strange kind of defeated, distracted monotone. The outstanding Helene Grimaud is more than an equal partner to Rampling on stage, producing some beautifully composed classical tunes at her equally simply lit grand piano to add the musical aspects to the story.
There are one or two other moments of visual beauty too, Rampling sitting on stage with snow falling all around her springs to mind. Meanwhile, at the back of the stage, Sacred Sounds Women’s Choir provide an enchanting soundscape as well as acting as effective hand artistes. Yet, for all the talent and potential within Neck of the Woods, it never seems to coalesce into something more substantial than a series of disconnected tableaus, a huge piece of installation art that one could walk into at any time in the loop and still not make sense of anything. Even the unnecessarily long periods of total darkness that bookend the piece don’t seem anywhere near as tense or threatening as you feel they perhaps should.
Neck of the Woods really does try its best to be indefinable. Is it art? Is it a play? Is it intended as a combination of both? As a piece of art, well, taste is very individual. As a piece of theatre, it promises lots but fails to deliver any kind of hook and proves an extremely difficult and frustrating piece to get to grips with.
Runs until 18th July