Developed alongside real-life experiences of homelessness, Theatre Témoin’s The Marked justly aims to shine a torchlight onto the often hidden psychology suffered by society’s most vulnerable.
The past, present and nightmare are fused in Jack’s story of life before and on the streets. Whilst Jack grapples with an anchorless identity, we are thrust in and out of his childhood plagued by his mother’s alcohol addiction. These flashbacks are interspersed through Jack’s present-day search for solace in a pregnant woman also stricken with homelessness and a controlling partner.
Grotesque masks (designed by Grafted Cede Theatre) conjure up Jack’s troubled past, visualising a Jekyll-and-Hyde-like mother who transforms into a witch-inspired form under intoxication. The effective use of these masks work well in illustrating a child’s monstrous perception of an alcohol dependant parent.
The cast must be commended for executing complex sequences of character interaction, rapidly swapping their human head for a mask, then for a full-bodied pigeon costume, and again for a hand-held puppet. The trio of actors smoothly function as an ensemble, demonstrating slick physical work, despite a couple of slower transitions. Samuel Fogell provides a solid base as our focal character, but the strongest performance comes from Tom Stacy as the unsettling partner. However, as a part of a hectic whole, all three real-time characters feel under-developed, labouring under a stilted script which tries to cover a lot of ground in little space.
Theatre Témoin are a company of bursting potential, but need to settle slightly. Ruthless red tears stream from the mother’s hollow eyed sockets and engulfing bin liners flood out, thick as tar, realising a visceral effect. Unfortunately, this is countered by some odd stylistic choices, including an absurd vision involving two life-sized, demonic pigeons who joke about the metaphorical use of Jack’s childhood torch. This meta-reference misses its mark and feels awkwardly out-of-tune with the already dissonant production harmony, only adding to the piece’s directional uncertainty.
While The Marked emits an impressive passion, it’s ultimately let down by confused direction and a clouded message. The three-hander valiantly attempts to tackle an array of heavy themes, but the density of its ambition feels too weighty, saying too little about a lot. A melting pot of creative and technical elements, including physical theatre, puppetry and mask, leaves a sense of overcrowding, further blurring narrative clarity. Within a fleeting hour, no breathing space is left loose to dive under the show’s surface. The Marked puppets a production with too many strings, and becomes inevitably tangled.
The last thing we see is Jack’s defiant stare down of the audience. A glance for which I’m sure I was meant to feel something, but, sadly, The Marked didn’t quite catch my eye.
The Marked is playing at the Pleasance Dome until August 29.