Writer: Alistair Hall
Director: Alexis Gregory
Theatre needn’t be bright or comforting. Often, it is one of the few forms of brutal honesty accessible, able to tackle divisive (and often dismissive) thoughts on isolation, sexuality, fear of the outside world and often with a degree of myth thrown in for good measure. As many attempt to comprehend their isolation, Declan is an innovative piece of theatre which draws us inward to the mind of Jimbo, a boy who has an unstable relationship with his father, a non-existent one with his mother, and a seemingly dangerous one with his old friend Declan.
Created and performed by Alistair Hall, Declan boasts powerful writing, and glints of unfettered ambition, but struggles to piece it all together. What Hall’s writing delivers, in blood-dripping droves, is an atmosphere, in particular a neo-gothic sense of contemporary horror. Leaning a touch heavily on the vampire parables, a portion of the split-nature of Hall’s performance of Jimbo has stark flickers of Stoker’s Renfield. A sinful ignition, which grows over-time, Hall’s production catches a few too many reflections of Renfield’s incarceration, a parallel which wouldn’t merit comment had Declan not drawn heavily on the vampire mythos and empowerment of the flesh and blood.
At its most potent, Declan emboldens Hall’s language, particularly in the grotesque obsession with the visceral, bodily and disturbed. The tone of speech, word-choice and twisted weaving of imagery throughout the narrative provide an intensely tangible assault on the senses, particularly adept at flaring the nostrils. Here is Declan’s strength, one it should have played into more, deeper, richer use of imagery rather than the breakneck flickering between ‘ghosts’ or time-scales. It confuses any of the purposes which were building, and just as an investment is made in a particular scene or delivery, it’s dashed to the side by Hall’s chaotic delivery.
This chaos ripples into reality, so much so the audience will spend plenty of time questions the motivations and truths behind Jimbo’s words. It seems safe to disregard much of his tales, stripping away the fictional monsters, the vampires, and ghosts, to concentrate on the real atrocities of suicide and homophobia. The questioning of our reality due to solitude, to a disconnection from the outside world is viable in its contemporary place, above all else, it’s a clever delivery mechanism deployed by Hall.
Trouble is this blurring of reality, in an attempt to conjure manifestations of psychological insecurity, potential abuse and sensory depictions, muddies its intentions. There’s an undeniable ability in Hall’s crafting of Declan, with award-winning Layke Anderson’s video editing toyed with just enough to heighten the ethereal atmosphere, without resorting to shlock horror. Flickers of lights, the scattered remains of Jimbo’s psyche strewn across the cell-like room, all communicate volumes to the audience. As a piece of cinema, as much as a piece of theatre, the editing process, and the videography Anderson achieves, all structured well by Alexis Gregory’s direction, makes for a surprisingly intimate production.
As a short piece, at just over twenty-five minutes, Declan condenses a hefty weight of imagery and language into a cell which it is bursting from. There’s the feeling of a jigsaw which has been turned out, but a few pieces are missing, and not even the writer knows where they lurk. Perhaps this is an intended note, that we are never given the full puzzle, that our obsessions detract from a healthy sense of self, but Declan bogs itself in such intensive, convoluted imagery and metaphor that it numbs impressions which may have been left.
Available here to stream until 28 June 2020