Melancholy – Jackson’s Lane, London

Creators: Stephen McCabe, Sarah Morgan and Laura Romer-Ormiston
Animator: Emily Knight.
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

With Halloween only just passed and many long winter nights ahead, it seems appropriate that Certain Dark Things Theatre Company would turn their hand to a reimagining of the Frankenstein story. But rather than concentrating on the science and the morality of man’s attempt to control life and death, their new show Melancholy, showing at Jackson’s Lane, is an emotional journey through one man’s grief and suffering, told using mime, animation and puppetry.

tell-us-block_editedA charming animation opens the show, a simple story in black and white projected on the back of the stage, showing a short tragic love-story. A marriage proposal is accepted and the happy couple begin their time together. He is a scientist and together they create a mini-creature in the lab to share their life, before the wife becomes pregnant, dying along with the baby in childbirth. Left behind, the now fully animated man and his puppet creation miss the wife terribly and hatch a plan to recreate her.

Melancholy is a beautiful, expressive and meaningful examination of the nature of love and loss which aches with emotion from the start. Emily Knight’s deceptively simple animation sets the tone perfectly, capturing the happiness and innocence of the young couple’s life and the more reflective experience of death. It’s an intriguing and effective tool for conveying a decent amount of backstory very quickly, and while used sparingly, pops up a couple more times to convey time passing and the play’s final conclusion. What could seem mawkish and sentimental if physically acted becomes tender and wistful in cartoon form, and one of the high points of this production.

Stephen McCabe’s performance as the scientist husband is then able to focus on conveying the depths of his grief and loneliness, as well as the excitement and hope he feels at being able to reconstruct his wife, using physical theatre and mime alone. His puppet ‘pet’ creation helps to spur him on initially as they play together to try and lift their despair including a nice recreation of a horse racing game with the puppet as a champion jockey.

But the play excels in its portrayal of heart-wrenching emotion, to a haunting soundtrack of jazz and classic love songs from the last 60 years of music. When the scientist first hits on his Frankenstein idea he dances with his trench coat and the coat rack as though they were his wife to Mel Carter’s Hold Me Thrill Me Kiss Me, while Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again is used for the animated montage as he works on his creation. But best of all is a scene in which the scientist is overwhelmed with anguish as he sits on the ground longingly clutching his wife’s scarf to the strains of Unchained Melody at which point only the stoniest heart will fail to have a silent weep.

But it’s not all doom and gloom, as Sarah Morgan’s puppet creature, performed by the creator and Laura Romer-Ormiston, also adds some lighter moments including a couple of lovely fantasy sequences performed in slow-motion representing the hope and investment in their plan. At one stage the puppet flies onto the coat rack which rotates her, while another sees her bounced into the air with glee by the scientist. Although they don’t add directly to the plot they elucidate a different kind of emotion, not a million miles away from similar scenes in the old MGM musicals.

For a 55 minutes show, Melancholy does have a few slow bits in which not enough is happening to be fully engaging, particularly at the beginning as the scientist is concocting his reanimation potions, while the scenes that are completely silent or just have a metronome tick jar slightly with the music-based sections. Nonetheless, this is a charming and affecting piece of theatre that seamlessly integrates a number of techniques to comment on the nature of loss and finding solace for those left behind.  

Runs until 4 November 2016 | Image: Richard Davenport



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