Director: Beth Flintoff
Devisors: Rhum and Clay Theatre Company and Beth Flintoff
1940s movies and 21st Century corporate business scandals. On the face of it, they don’t have much in common, but Rhum and Clay have spotted the connections. Hard Boiled: The Fall of Sam Shadow, combines the story of blackouts carried out by Enron in 2000, with a gumshoe detective, a femme fatale, and everything else you expect from a Raymond Chandler novel. The end result is a visual triumph, even if the script has trouble matching it for inventiveness at times.
When the said femme fatale, played by Jess Mabel Jones, visits private eye Sam Shadow – Julian Spooner – to report the disappearance of her lover Lewis MacIntyre, it triggers off an investigation that results in McIntyre being found dead shortly after he’s reappeared. He dies on the premises of Addison Electricals, the electrical sub-contractors he works for, seemingly the result of an accidental fall. Is there more to it than that? Of course. This is an old style detective story, and there has to be mystery, suspicion, conspiracy and cover-up. The question is how does it link to Addison’s, and is it connected to the blackouts the city is facing on a daily basis?
The level of intrigue builds slowly, too slowly at times, as the reasons for the blackouts stay as much in the dark as the city itself, but even while the story is taking its time, the visual side more than compensates for the lack of action. David Harris’ set design, seemingly consisting of a couple of door frames on wheels, narrow open cabinets, a painted backdrop of LA and various small items found in the average city, is deceptively simple. Combined with the movement and choreography of the company, director Beth Flintoff creates something truly mesmerising and far greater than the sum of its minimal parts.
Over the course of ninety minutes, we move between Shadow’s office, electrical sub-plants, hairdressers, café’s, bars, balconies and narrow ledges on top floors of tower blocks to name but a few. The transition between each setting is seamless. The company ensure that every change is integrated into the play using action and movement, and you never feel like you are watching actors moving props about. Lighting designer Nick Flintoff, and the lighting team, also deserve great credit for helping to create the atmosphere, giving each of the settings its own distinctive feel.
The small cast make easy work of delivering a script with a seemingly endless list of characters. Apart from Spooner, they all switch between several roles. As well as the femme fatale, Jones plays Betty, Shadow’s assistant, and gives a brilliant cameo as ditzy receptionist Polly Conson, alongside other supporting roles. Christopher Harrison and Matthew Wells, who complete the cast, switch between cops, reporters, businessmen, and spinster women, all with effortless ease, and without the audience ever getting confused about who they’re watching.
The story itself eventually kicks into gear with the discovery of the motivation behind the blackouts, and once this happens it has a real momentum, with neat twists and turns that make the inevitable conclusion not quite as straightforward as you think. The only shame is that it takes about fifty minutes before this happens. In the meantime, you can delight in the visuals, and in the all-round talents of the actors and the company.
Runs until 27 February 2016 | Image:Philip Tull