Writer: Christopher William Hill
Director: Luke Kernaghan
Reviewer: Joan Phillips
Billed as a bloodthirsty comedy, Clockwork Canaries struggles to completely get its act together until the final 30 minutes of the play, by which time one could argue is simply too late.
Maximilian Dressler (Dominic Marsh) is a desperate inventor who lives with his daughter, Tatiana. From the outset things are creepily awry. Tatiana (Charlie Cameron) has a morbid obsession with death and keeps a dressed mannequin in the family living room to remind her of her dead mother, while Dressler is distracted by his schemes and his dwindling funds.
Add to this the arrival of a bedraggled, but blood thirsty, cat, Count Frederick Sebastian, and the arrival next door of a buxom opera diva, Mrs Stein-Hoffelman (Christopher Staines) whose husband is mysteriously dying – as did the previous three (or was it four?).
If it all sounds a little Lemony Snicket crossed with The Adams Family then that would be a good place to start. So far, so promising. The story, written by Christopher William Hill, would make a good, short, thriller for younger children. But for a two-hour evening theatre performance, it is just too drawn out, fragmented and simply not funny enough. The good comic ideas in the original story have become too diluted and almost lost. Kernaghan needs to take some deep cuts to this version and get some pace back. On top of this, the whole idea needs to decide who it is pitching against – the comedy is just not silly enough for children and not farcical enough and too juvenile for adults.
Puppetry design from Michael Fowkes is however excellent, ably managed by Richard Booth. The busy set appropriately takes inspiration from old-fashioned children’s reading books. Freestanding wooden wardrobes and chests hide secrets; suspicious soups bubble on top of greasy kitchen ranges, tombstones can be seen through the window; clues shut away in large trunks or ice boxes; lace curtains and heavy drapes date the room.
In spite of the intriguing plot and set design, the task remains too much for the cast and director to maintain the necessary pace and engagement. Additionally, the comic moments are too thinly spread and not consistently successful, proving once again how seriously comedy has to be taken. Only the last 30 minutes hint at what the play might have been, but by that time the audience had waited too long.
Runs until 10 March 2018 | Image: Steve Tanner