Ghost stories, amongst the streamable theatrical content on offer to us in lieu of a proper theatre trip, seem to be more popular than usual at the moment. Perhaps this is due to their told-round-the-campfire nature, and how they’re often (when well written) easier to convey with words alone, and are mostly cheapened by the sets, affects and props that we can’t get our hands on at the minute anyway. With the coronavirus still making it unsafe for us to sit shoulder to shoulder in a grand old auditorium or sandwich ourselves into a dark room above a tacky-floored pub, I’m grateful for the continuous attempts of the community to give us something to watch. A recent attempt, Alistair Hall’s Declan, offers us all a new bit of theatre to tide us over until we’re allowed to pile into the stalls again, whilst charging a small fee in order to help to raise funds for the #SupportTheActorsCentre appeal.
With videography by Layke Anderson, Hall as Jimbo is centre stage, stood in his striped pyjamas and surrounded by such a random smattering of props that they look like they might’ve been scavenged from a skip before curtain. A duvet, a microwave and some running shoes are among the items circled around him. Under harsh lighting and in a thick West Country accent, Hall begins his ‘contemporary ghost story’, exploring themes of family, loss and friendship.
I’m not sure if lockdown has melted my brain, and I’m now only capable of understanding Antiques Roadshow and Queer Eye, but I find it very hard to follow the plot of Declan. I watch it twice to try and make more sense of what feels like 25 minutes of random sentences strung together but unfortunately don’t achieve much clarity. Jimbo himself seems to be some sort of child-like figure, so I’m mildly disturbed when he comes out with gems such as “I was 12 when I touched myself for the first time” and that it “made my hand sticky”, and his general demeanour is quite unsettling. He rarely makes use of the space, reciting most of the script stood still, but he occasionally darts right up to the camera (at one point he leans forward shouting “Tits and dick! Tits and dick!” so make of that what you will) or utilises one of his props which are loosely tied to the story.
The story itself is captivating, not necessarily because it’s engaging but rather because we have to pay such close attention to try to make sense of it. Perhaps due to the lack of movement and visual markers, the almost half an hour of dialogue isn’t broken up by much and so this is what makes it fairly hard to follow. This, along with the abstract tone of the writing, make the narrative quite confusing.
Directed by Alexis Gregory, is Declan the best thing I’ve ever seen over lockdown? No. Is it a production that’s clearly had a lot of thought and effort put into it, is enjoyable enough to try and decipher, and is raising money for a great cause? Yes. If you fancy being lightly entertained, slightly unnerved, and supporting the arts while you’re at it, then Declan has got you covered.
Declan is streaming online until 28 June. For more information, visit The Actors Centre’s website.