You can’t help but see the streets of Borough in the light of the horrific events that occurred recently. It seems almost surreal going to the theatre for entertainment on the doorstep of terror, but hands down to The Bunker and Pharmacy Theatre for going on as the streets re-opened, opening their debut show The Enchanted with a sense of defiance and bravery. It seems a sad, but powerful coincidence that the adaptation of Rene Denfeld’s award-winning novel questions the face of evil and what shapes it, as well as reflecting on punishment and our need for justice. At a time where we struggle to define people and what monsters live inside them, it seems The Enchanted couldn’t be more relevant.
Set on death row in America, it’s the classic ‘get inside the mind of a killer’ psychological drama. This is someone we’d define as a monster, and who, in many people’s opinion, doesn’t deserve the label ‘life’. We follow Arden (Corey Montague-Sholay), an isolated inmate who can’t talk to the people around him but who communicates directly with the audience through poetic narration. We see glimpses of his past, but mainly follow the case of York (Hunter Bishop), an inmate facing execution for the murders he has committed, and whose tragic past seems to link directly to his unforgivable acts. An investigator (Jade Ogugua) fights hard to save their lives and gradually discovers how her own past mirrors theirs.
The Enchanted asks what makes a person “evil” – is it nature or nurture or a different world-view entirely? Are evil people still human? The set-up of America’s renowned death row seems a simple frame for this, though the narrative itself is so fragmented at times it can be hard to keep up with the arc of the story and which space we’re in. The actors commit with a passion and openness that’s admirable, and the physicalisation of these characters are at times almost animal-like. Most fascinating is Hunter Bishop’s shaky York, piercingly present with the nerve of the Joker, as well as Corey Montague-Sholay’s misunderstood and loveable Arden. Georgina Morton and Liam Harkins show great diversity and urgency in their multi-rolling, and Jade Ogugua’s The Lady and Jack Staddon’s The Fallen Priest bring moments of intimacy to the otherwise slightly mystifying play. The production is heavily based in movement work, skilfully choreographed by Emily Orme, echoing the thrilling style of Owen Sheers’ Pink Mist. The movement is intriguing with the heightened poetic language, and don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of physical theatre, but at times it is a bit unclear why it’s there. Distinguishing what the moment is symbolising, or how it moves the text and action forward, would perhaps sharpen the effect and really lift the experience. Director Connie Treves experiments with form and how scenes can shift through each other which is applaudable, and visually The Enchanted is very moving. A bit more clarity in character relationships and narrative would make the imagery even more powerful.
Jacob Lucy’s design is incredibly clever and slick, a white space with a box hanging above with branches growing into the confined space of the prison. The cell being just a square light from above this box is just pure genius. It really proves that Pharmacy Theatre is a visually thrilling company on the rise, and with a few tweaks, they can really spark our imagination.
The Enchanted is playing at The Bunker Theatre until June 17.