The word ‘belief’ is bandied about a lot and covers all manner of sins; a person’s faith in an idea, a feeling of conviction, an actor’s commitment to an action or character. Watching The Idle Dream’s The Station, belief is everything and is frequently called into question both on and off stage. It is the story of a young boy’s enduring belief and imagination, stunningly portrayed by the skilfully shape-shifting Malcolm Hamilton.
Al’s estranged Grandfather dies leaving him a key, a symbol of a life-long belief which Al takes on in an effort to understand the man he never really knew. Al comes to believe ferociously, as did his Grandfather, that there is a hidden rainforest in Northumberland. There is not a trace of doubt and his naivety and whole-hearted conviction, coupled with a limitless imagination, is what makes him endearingly human and genuinely reaches the audience.
The central character of Al is by turns electrically alive and painfully concentrated, always driven by questions and the search for the next clue in his adventure. Hamilton fills every inch of the stage with twists and turns as Al makes new discoveries, maps out plans and runs into other characters. It’s a high energy performance that never drops, even in seemingly calm moments, thanks to the stylised movements, slick transformations and subtle expressions that marks this piece as its own.
Hamilton morphs from one character to the next, barely pausing to draw breath, from the nattering old ladies and the genial old men at the funeral to the hard-nosed, scathing board members and, with humorous and touching consequences, Al’s concerned mother. I don’t think I’ve ever been quite so fascinated by a performer’s face before. Each character appears animatedly in his face, some for an instant, some for a finger-wagging minute, all depicted with precision and aplomb. A particularly favourite moment was when Hamilton’s face contorted incredibly slowly, seeming to melt and crumple before our eyes. It was utterly fascinating. All of a sudden a stuffy old man was talking and the tale continued.
It wasn’t just the morphing that kept the audience mesmerised: Hamilton created an imaginary world before us that we could really believe in. With practically no set he conjured his Grandfather’s attic full of jungle artefacts and expedition memorabilia, and Al’s wide-eyed discoveries were as clear to us as him. A great example of spellbinding storytelling.
While there were perhaps a couple of movements that I didn’t glean any particular meaning from, they were all executed with a sense of purpose and focus which meant they were still part and parcel of the performance and didn’t detract from the flow of the piece. The story and acting were such that the audience was engaged and ready to accept what was presented, a message that Al himself hopes for: “I look only for your commitment, your belief… your trust in the fantastic.”
If you enjoy storytelling, the expanse of the imagination, and physical theatre, do go and see this wonderful production.