“How to begin?” This is the question I ask myself every time I go to write a review. No doubt, every writer faces this question each time they decide to put pen to paper, or open up a new word document. It also happens to be the opening line of Strange Rocks, a new short play, written by Oliver Emanuel and produced by Mull Theatre.
An isolated writer faces a creative block and seeks inspiration. Every day he takes a walk on the beach to find an new interesting object to ponder over, hoping that his observations will unleash a new story. But, sadly this all amounts to very little success. Until one day, he discovers the most interesting object he’s ever found – a ‘dead’ woman. This intriguing encounter between two strangers sparks a simple but thrilling narrative of natural connection, whilst questioning the nature of a story.
Emanuel keeps the audience on their toes with thought-provoking ideas, heaps of mystery and a cleverly structured script. The stories of the two characters begin to unravel in parallel, switching between monologues with shared rhythms and smooth links. As the narratives begin to intertwine, the scenes become more solid in form, but are interspersed with filmic features, which adds a fantastical element to the production.
Strange Rocks is a prime example of both film and theatre mediums working in complete harmony – director Beth Morton and cinematographer/lighting designer Jamie Wardrop really have delivered the goods. You’ve got some delightfully dramatic close ups, as monologues are directed straight to the camera, but also some full stage shots, heightening the immense theatricality of the piece. The breaks in dialogue maintain their tension through subtle movement sequences or dream-like clips: the power of editing works in favour of this production as shifts in time are stylish and dynamic. In addition to this, Simon Liddel’s composition trickles throughout the piece, fading in and out like a powerful tide, as though feeding the atmosphere with drama and mystique.
The chemistry between Ashley Smith and Simon Donaldson (as the woman and the writer respectively) is subtle, but utterly engaging. There’s a real ease and softness to both of their performances, which shows vulnerability in each character.
Strange Rocks is a story deep-rooted in the human desires and instincts for connection, fresh starts and stories. It’s also pensive about the art of writing within a fresh and dramatic context. This intimate piece demands intrigue at every moment and encourages observation of life itself. It might even just make you question where a story begins and ends.
Strange Rocks is streaming online, until 27 October. For tickets and information, see An Tobar and Mull Theatre website.