Although they set themselves on a task as brave, and almost as challenging, as that of our exploring protagonist, Marlow, this arresting production Heart of Darkness by Scandal and Gallows Theatre Company – a group of Cambridge Graduates – succeeds in taking us right into the core of Conrad’s dense novel.
The set is intriguing. It is sparse, but somehow not minimalist. Three shipping containers (two big, one small) somehow manage to fill the space. Behind this is a white sheet backdrop, which becomes an innovative part of this production – striking changes in colour help to create a forest, a city, or a sinister shadow of a ‘savage’.
This set is perfectly completed by a cotton-clad Marlow, who wastes no time in grasping our attention with his excitable intonation and fervent motions. At this stage, he is as endearing as a child on his birthday; with an honest face and only a little pretension. ‘Listen to me.’ he seems to be saying with his eyes. ‘Come with me. I have something important to tell you.’ As an audience, we want to follow him, and we do.
Once successfully sucked into his tale, we begin to see what he sees. We follow his finger as he points and follow his eyes as he stares. If you didn’t believe in the suspension of disbelief before, this production is enough to make you question that.
Guy Clark plays a magician as well as Marlow, conjuring up a doctor, a forest, or an item of clothing with the slightest of motions. This talent is vital to overcoming the obvious difficulty that will have faced the production; that of conquering Conrad’s narration and transferring it into an audible tale as entertaining as his text – something which was no small task.
On a slightly more sombre note, I’d love to say they succeeded wholeheartedly in dramatizing what is, ultimately, a novel. But I feel I would be avoiding certain moments where one was aware of a slight ramble in the script that was, I’m sure, a layover from it its origin. Having said this, without noting these moments it would be impossible to truly merit Clark’s performance. I think it is a tribute to the strength of his acting that he carried us through. There were moments when he was another person, age, gender, class, and moments when he was scarily close to us as Marlow.
Even it were just a homage to Conrad’s novel (and it is so much more!) this play would be worth seeing for the excitement of the tale, and the prescient messages it holds relating to the potential of man’s destructive hegemony. This production is a whirlpool – drawing you into its tumults with an impressively strong gravity and leading you to find the calmer seas.
Heart of Darkness played at OMNIBUS, Clapham until 8 March.