Shō and the Demons of the Deep – Platform, Glasgow

Reviewer: Dominic Corr

Writer: Zoë Bullock

Adapted from the work by Annouchka Gravel Galouchko

Director: Shilpa T-Hyland

There’s something to be said about caring for our little nightmares before they ferment into larger ones – when their influence extends beyond just our own headspace. And that despite how they make us feel and the pain they can impart, are they not still something of ourselves? Anxiety or trauma with the prospect of being re-shaped and guided into something constructive or healing?

When playwright Zoë Bullock was introduced to Annouchka Gravel Galouchko’s story,Shō et les Dragons D’Eau, the tale of a Japanese village plagued with nightmares which they would haphazardly toss away into the sea, unaware of the demons they would create beneath the surface, there was a spark of something brilliant which would eventually unfold into this new co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland and Independent Arts Project.

A spiritual successor, entirely respectful of Galouchko’s picture book,Shō and the Demons of the Deepenables additional elements for this visual experience for young people to extend its reach to new audiences and form a quick connection between recognisable generations. Set a few decades into the future of the original tale, Shō’s grandmother becomes enrolled into the narrative, furthering much of the story’s threads on what sort of world we are leaving behind, and the damages we do when making our lives in the ‘now’ easier.

Performed as a three-hander (though with terrifically incorporated BSL from Catherine King) Rebecca Wilkie, Itxaso Moreno and Christina Strachan bring their all to the production as they catapult themselves into various roles of the village folk and our principal leads of Shō, their Grandmother Hana, or Hana’s once childhood friend Mikey. Each provides balance in performance as an ensemble piece, even when performing a titular role: from Wilkie’s determined curiosity as Sho to Strachan’s language and dialect switch-ups, and Moreno’s excellent physicality as they fire themselves through the holes and gaps of the set. As they skitter, leap and scuttle under Kate Bonney’s inviting lighting, making full use of the levels of the performance space, the continuous cycle of energy never dips – even with the moments of longer monologues to offer context and moral quandaries.

T-Hyland’s direction never dips in focus and reinforces Bullock’s writing style that emulates a heavily oral tradition of storytelling,Shō and the Demons of the Deepbalances the more contemporary performances and energy with a sustainable and aesthetic set from Claire Halleran. Crafting both a city and junkyard, the villagers are often kitchen implements. At the same time, the nightmares themselves are often a collected manifestation of our wasteful attitudes – torn and shredded trash, rustling and scratching in our heads.

The tie between the climate crisis and the poisonous nature of the nightmares being dumped into the river is a strong analogy, not as forced as it could be – especially for younger audiences. The idea of tying it all together so neatly while incorporating elements of our negative attitudes, isolation, and struggles of mental health and grievances with one another all stitch a deeper piece of storytelling than the jokes and throw-away bits of cutlery initially suggest.

Bullock’s is an intimately clever script. It does not delve as darkly as it possibly could (given the suggested eight-plus age rating), and though the colours and sound design paint a gorgeous picture at times, it’s missing a touch of that ancient ‘dream state’ in something which represents this production’s individuality. Shō and the Demons of the Deep is a show which seeks to demonstrate the power of dreams, even broken, and encourages younger audiences not to hide and bury nightmares, but to open up and communicate with one another in this delightfully creative and warming show that threads together so much with canny skill and a dreamy glow.

Reviewed on 12 April 2024 then touring | Image: Mihaela Bodlovic

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A Dreamy Glow

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