There’s certainly enthusiasm in Patch of Blue, the London-based theatre troupe who have adapted Irish novelist Sarah Moore Fitzgerald’s Back to Blackbrick. In their effort to put the story on stage, they curiously have left out a few details.
Fitzgerald’s book sees the protagonist’s mother leaving for Australia. Left in his grandparents’ care, Cosmo (Alex Brain) now has to contend with losing another loved one: his grandfather (Grahame Edwards) who is battling with Alzheimer’s. In a rare moment of lucidity, he trusts Cosmo with a key to the Blackbrick abbey, a type of ‘Big House’ estate. Upon using it to unlock the gates, Cosmo is transported back to 1940s Ireland, when his grandfather’s teenage self (Llody Bagley) works as a servant. He chooses to interfere a lá Back to the Future with his grandparents’ history, which of course doesn’t turn out too well.
This adaptation seems to forego that Irish context, with no costuming or scenery to suggest the 2010s from which it’s broadcasting. Instead, director Alex Howarth places the action in a veritable play-world where there is invention at every turn. The folk band Wovoka Gentle lend constant sound effects and melodies, the stage is always transforming under the actors’ ‘WOOOSSSH’ sounds, and there are glistening projections. In short, every storytelling trick in the book seems to be thrown at the thing.
Without situating the action in a time or place, the stakes feel lost. The vast stage vocabulary ultimately thins its effect and, worse, the staging prefers the posturing of melodrama towards its conclusion. Not even Brain’s spirited turn can inject urgency into a production that prefers whimsy and demonstration over impact.
Back to Blackbrick runs at Pleasance Courtyard (The Cellar) until 31 Aug. For more information and tickets, see the Fringe website.